Pet-ty Politics: The Prowess of the 4-Legged Voting Bloc

PHOTO: An unidentified man holds up a sign reading, "Dogs against Romney" in this handout photo.

Man's best friend may not be able to vote, but dogs, and other animals, still seem to play a significant role in presidential politics.

From Mitt Romney's dog-on-the-roof debacle to Newt Gingrich's zoo obsession, the candidates' four-legged friends are clawing their way to the top of the political headlines this week.

PHOTO: Sen. Rick Santorum, right, with bloodhounds at a news conference of GOP Senate leadership.
Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Santorum's Paw Print of Approval

Personal pet stories aside, only one GOP candidate has gotten a stamp of approval from the Humane Society for his support of animal rights: Rick Santorum.

While the animal advocacy group has not officially endorsed a candidate, Santorum earned three times as many points as the next candidate, Newt Gingrich, on the group's congressional voting record score card.

"[Animal welfare] is a very core issue for many people in the country, in every region in every state," said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which scores members of Congress. "It's a quality-of-life issue for many people, and it relates to other social concerns such as food safety, and stopping violence in our community, and family values and just being a good citizen."

Ron Paul proved to have the most dismal animal rights record, scoring a whopping zero points from the Humane Society for his congressional voting record in 2008.

In a December blog post announcing the candidates' scores, Markarian wrote that Paul "demonstrated a consistent hostility or indifference" towards animal rights, scoring less than 25 percent in every legislative session.

Markarian said Paul's failing grade was because he voted to allow horses to be slaughtered and sold as food, bison to be killed in Yellowstone National Park and polar bears to be imported for sport trophy hunting. He was also against including pets in disaster planning, making dog fighting and cockfighting a felony and banning "animal crush" videos where people squash and kill live animals for entertainment.

President Obama's score was hardly better. The Humane Society gave the president a C-minus this year for dropping the ball on closing puppy mills, stopping polar bears from being imported for sport trophy hunting, removing gray wolves from the list of federally protected animals and signing off on allowing horses to be slaughtered for food.

Santorum, on the other hand, was a "champion" for animals while in the Senate, Markarian said. He earned an 80 percent rating from 2005 to 2007, in large part for sponsoring the Pet Animal Welfare Statute that would crack down on puppy mills. He also co-sponsored bills to increase felony penalties for animal fighting and stop the slaughter of horses for food.

PHOTO: Mitt Romney holds a small dog handed over by a supporter after speaking at a "Florida housing event" in Lehigh, Florida.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Romney's Doggie Debacle

While the Humane Society did not give Romney a score for his term as Massachusetts governor, Markarian said his tenure was marked by "indifference."

"In a state with a very large number of animal welfare supports, he was certainly not known for leadership on these issues," Markarian said.

As Massachusetts governor, Romney signed laws to increase the penalty for animal cruelty and animal fighting and prevent convicted animal abusers from getting their animals back, but did not advocate for them, Markarina said.

Easily, the most notable animal issue surrounding Romney is the story first published in 2008 by the Boston Globe of Romney strapping a dog kennel with the family dog Seamus inside to the roof of his station wagon for a 12-hour drive from Boston to Ontario.

Although Seamus the Irish Setter has died, the story of his rooftop ride seems to be immortal.

Gail Collins, a New York Times op-ed columnist who has mentioned Romney's Seamus story in more than three dozen columns, said she can't help but write about the story because it is emblematic of the candidate.

"It's very Mitt Romney in every way, and it's very much about control," Collins told the Daily Beast. "The guy is rich, but he chose to get them all to Canada for the summer by packing five boys in the car with his wife and putting the dog on the roof. A rich person could have found an easier way to do this."

But Romney's not the only politician with a pet problem.

PHOTO: Lyndon Johnson is seen holding a beagle dog's ears up, in this undated photo, provided by the University of Texas Libraries.
Courtesy the University of Texas Libraries/The University of Texas at Austin
Past Presidents' White House Menageries

President Lyndon B. Johnson found himself in the doghouse with animal rights activists in 1964 after a photo showed him picking up his beagle by the ears while greeting guests on the White House lawn.

Johnson later said he did it "to make him bark," according to an Associated Press report from the time.

"It's good for him," Johnson told the AP, "and if you've ever followed dogs you like to hear them yelp."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came under attack from his Republican presidential rivals in the 1944 election for allegedly leaving his Scottish terrier Fala on an island during a trip to the Aleutian Islands. FDR's opponents charged the president with spending millions to send a Navy ship back to the island to fetch dog, a story that was later proved false.

"These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife or on my sons," Roosevelt said in a speech defending his pup. "No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. His Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since."

Every president since Chester Arthur, who served in the 1880s, has had at least one pet in the White House, according to the Presidential Pet Museum. And while the majority of first pets are dogs, some past presidential pets have included a rather unorthodox array of animals.

Martin Van Buren had tiger cubs given to him by the sultan of Oman. William Henry Harrison brought a billy goat and cow. John Quincy Adams had an alligator and silkworms.

John F. Kennedy had a rabbit, parakeets, ponies and a canary. Abraham Lincoln had a turkey, goats and a pig named Fido. And Calvin Coolidge practically had a full zoo, including a donkey, tiger, bobcat, pigmy hippo, bear and wallaby -- all given to him by foreign dignitaries.

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