Mitt Romney wasn't at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show Tuesday, but he was nearby, hosting a fundraiser less than 2 miles away at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. And that was close enough for Dogs Against Romney, a protest group that has spent nearly five years hounding Romney for being "mean" to dogs.
Dogs Against Romney held a small protest Tuesday outside Madison Square Garden, where lots of dogs were congregating for the Westminster dog show's final day. But far fewer dogs were congregating outside the arena, raising fears of a Dogs Against Romney protest without any actual dogs.
"They'll be here, they'll be here," a protest organizer said nervously, according to the Ticket. "I mean, it's New York. It's tough to get dogs around the city sometimes."
Several dogs eventually showed up, helping their human handlers protest what they call Romney's cruelty to animals. The demonstration had nothing to do with the Westminster dog show itself, though; as organizer Kitty Hendrix told the Associated Press, "We're just using this as a backdrop."
The idea that "Mitt is mean" — a slogan featured on DAR picket signs Tuesday — stems from a now-legendary incident first reported by the Boston Globe in 2007.
That incident took place in 1983, during a Romney family road trip from Boston to Ontario. With his wife, sons and luggage safely inside the station wagon, Mitt Romney infamously strapped Seamus, the family's Irish setter, into a specially made crate on the roof. Hours into the 12-hour drive, Mitt's oldest son, Tagg, noticed a "brown liquid running down the rear window," according to the Globe's Neil Swidey. Seamus had soiled himself, prompting Mitt to: pull off the highway, stop at a gas station, hose off Seamus and the car, return the dog to its rooftop crate, and get back on the road.
With Romney running for president in 2008 and now again in 2012, this story has often been used to highlight the former Massachusetts governor's knack for emotion-free problem solving. But even more than that, it has been used, fair or not, as a window into his character; many animal-rights advocates see it as proof he lacks empathy.
"I think Romney's attitude toward dogs was indicative of his attitude toward the most vulnerable in our society," picketer Al Alvarez told the AP Tuesday.
Tuesday's demonstration wasn't very big, ultimately drawing only "about a dozen protestors ... plus a few pooches," the AP reports. But DAR has a substantial online fan base, as suggested by its 27,000 Facebook likes, plus the rise of a Santorum-style Google war led by SpreadingRomney.com (which attempts to redefine "romney" as a verb meaning "to defecate in terror"). And despite its small turnout, the protest still drew widespread attention thanks to its high-profile backdrop, winning coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Politico and USA Today, among other outlets.
Later Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club even chimed in, adding further clout to DAR's underdog campaign.
"The AKC promotes responsible dog ownership. Putting a dog in a crate for car travel is the first step toward responsible dog ownership," the AKC's Lisa Peterson said in a statement. "The second step would be to put that crate in a car."
Check out video of Tuesday's protest below:
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