Mitt Romney's dog: a canine lesson for candidates

Mitt Romney's dog on the car roof story keeps getting in the way of his campaign. There is a lesson here  that candidates forget at their peril: Americans love dogs. Photo: Bo gives chase to President Obama on White House lawn.

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2012 — Poor Mitt Romney wants to talk about the economy yet the media keeps asking about his dog. You remember him, the Irish setter Mitt strapped to the roof of his car (in his carrier, of course) and took off for a vacation trip. However, this is not the image Romney wants us to take into the voting booth. But there is a lesson to be learned from this shaggy dog story that candidates forget at their peril: Americans love dogs. 

Therefore, if you are running for president, it is essential you have a dog or two. And no cats, for heaven’s sake. Can you imagine a President in the Oval Office, petting a purring Persian, ala Dr. Evil with Mr. Bigglesworth in “Austin Powers”? 

Not only is owning a dog a manly thing to do — notice that we are only electing men at this point in our history — real men own dogs not cats. Not only do we want to elect a President that we can have a beer or two with or in the case of George W. Bush an O’Douls, we demand our president have a dog to romp with in the Oval Office. No frou-frou dogs either, but dog dogs.

New Yorker cartoon cover

In fact, dogs are essential to survival in Washington. There is a famous quote, supposedly said by President Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” He did for a short time, a cocker spaniel puppy named Feller, before handing it off to his physician. That was in the days before photo ops.

What has brought presidents, candidates, and dogs back into the American psyche is the saga of Mitt Romney and his Irish setter, Seamus, a tale that is turning into a reoccurring nightmare for Mitt. The darn story just won’t go away. And that’s because Americans love their dogs. 

Quick refresher:

Fala and FDR at D.C. Memorial

 Romney’s son Tagg revealed back in 2007 that his dad strapped Seamus in his dog crate on top of the car for the 12 hour vacation trip from Boston to the Romney cottage on the shores of Canada’s Lake Huron. The image of a very sick dog splattering the car with its illness has been seared into the public psyche and just about the time it fades, up pops a New Yorker cover of it, only with Santorum strapped to the top of the car.

Or a snide comment by John Brabender, Rick Santorum’s chief strategist, reminds us once again of Mitt and his dog: “Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m going to listen to the value judgment of a guy who strapped his dog to the top of the roof of his car and went hurling down the highway.” 

That brings us to the question of the day: just who are the dog owners amongst our current crop of candidates? Here is what has been learned so far, starting with Rick himself:

Rick Santorum: There appear not to be any dogs frolicking around the seven children of Rick Santorum or at least none that are seen. But that doesn’t mean Rick doesn’t like dogs. In fact, according to Forbes, he even riled up some of his conservative base when he sponsored, along with Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a bill the Humane Society of America wanted: the Puppy Protection Act of 2001 (S.1478), which was intended to improve conditions for dogs at “puppy mills.” So we know Rick likes puppies.

Pres. Bush takes Millie and Ranger for a walk.

Newt Gingrich: Nope, there is no sign of Newt Gingrich cavorting with dogs, throwing the old Frisbee, out jogging with man’s best friend. However, Newt does have a special campaign page devoted to Pets With Newt. There you will see adorable cats and dogs giving Newt a shout out and a photo of the great man himself gingerly holding what looks like a small monkey while sporting an African bush hat. Very manly. 

Ron Paul: Nope, no sighting of dogs tagging along as Mr. Libertarian strides across the land. But they may just be back snoozing on the Texas porch. However, we do know the good doctor has the support of one dog:Snoop Dogg. The rapper came out for Ron Paul in Jan. 2012. So the doggy support may be broader than we know.

President Barack Obama: the candidate and current President did what any self-respecting president does when he gets elected, he got a dog. Bo, a namesake of Bo Diddley, is a male Portuguese Water Dog, and is referred to as the “First Dog” by the White House, a term now used by most recent administrations for their pets. Bo makes for great photo ops.

Bush 44 strolls with Barney and Miss Beazley

President George W. Bush: Following in the great tradition of FDR, Bush 44 had a black Scottish terrier Barney while the other Scottish terrier Miss Beazley was owned by Laura Bush. When Bush was president, both dogs had their own webpage.

President George H. W. Bush: Bush 1, George W.’s dad, had the famous Millie, a pet springer spaniel, and she even wrote a best seller called fittingly enough: “Millie’s Book.” She described her life with the Bush family, including morning briefings with the President, Oval Office discussions, and short squirrel hunting breaks for a diversion. Millie must have known what she was talking about because President Bush said during the 1992 re-election campaign that “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos” in reference to opposition candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

President William Clinton: Bill Clinton received First Dog Buddy, a chocolate Labrador from the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, Anthony Harrington and his wife Hope. After his retirement from the White House with his master to Chappaqua, N.Y., Buddy was expected to live out his dog years in the same comfort and life style he had become accustomed to. Alas, Buddy couldn’t resist his DNA to chase, and while taking off after a contractor’s van on busy Route 117, he was killed by another car. It was a big loss to Bill Clinton who valued what he called his “Buddy Time,” playing with the Lab when the Clintons “were having a particularly bad day.” Which in that White House were many.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson:

Pres. Johnson in infamous photo with Him

 The President set off a shock wave of protests when he was pictured lifting one of his Beagles, Him, by his ears. It was almost as appalling as showing the Presidential stomach scar. But not as bad as the Vietnam War. Johnson often would walk his two Beagles, Him and Her, while giving a moving press conference on the White House grounds. Later Him was killed when he was hit by a car while chasing a squirrel across the White House lawn.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Probably the most famous of all presidential pets, Fala, the lovable black Scottish terrier, grabbed the hearts of Americans and held on tight till he died, becoming part of FDR’s public image. If you saw the President, ten to one, you saw Fala somewhere in the photo. Given to FDR and Eleanor by a cousin, Fala knew how to perform tricks and his White Houseantics made him a media darling. Fala survived Roosevelt by seven years and is buried alongside him. A statue of Fala sits alongside Roosevelt at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington. Fala is the only presidential pet to be so honored.

Now to sum up the obvious:

To be a candidate and not to own a dog – a big negative.

To be a candidate and strap the dog to the roof of the car — a bigger negative.

To be President of the United States — get a dog fast.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib in the Communities at the Washington Times. She can also be heard on the Democrats for America’s FutureShe is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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