In this space, my goal has always been to depict the day to day pleasures, challenges and rewards of life with Cleo. Though I may, from time to time, drop allusions about politics or my political leanings, I avoid taking this divisive topic head on. I hope it’s clear, then, that the subject of today’s blog, Seamus the Irish Setter, is in no way intended to be political commentary. Rather, I hope we can look at the now famous event from the human standpoint without falling into camps of defending or attacking a Republican presidential candidate or even trying to evaluate whether the event has bearing on his suitability for either the race or the office. Honestly, as a dog lover, I just didn’t feel I could continue to neglect this subject. If you think you might be offended by a frank discussion of what some have called Seamusgate, please stop reading now. I promise, I won’t be hurt and will be happy to welcome you back next week. I’ll give you a moment to click the close button.
Okay, it’s just us now. Thanks for coming along for the ride. So to speak.
In case you haven’t heard much about this story, let me give a quick recap. In 1983, Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, and their five sons set out from Boston for a family vacation in Ontario, a twelve hour road trip. They loaded the back of the station wagon with their luggage, then hoisted Seamus and his dog crate onto the car’s roof, strapping it firmly in place. This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. In fact, Romney had created what he calls a “windshield” for the front of the crate. Some time during the twelve hours, one of the Romney lads noticed that a brown liquid was running down the rear window. The family pulled over at a rest stop, realized that Seamus had developed explosive diarrhea, pulled him out of the crate, hosed the car down, hosed the dog down, then put him back in his crate and finished the drive.
So what might that experience have been like for Seamus? Romney has described the crate as “airtight.” He probably didn’t mean that precisely. For one thing, there is no such thing as an airtight pet crate today and there wasn’t one in 1983. After all, a truly airtight pet crate wouldn’t be particularly popular as it would suffocate the animal inside. So, yes, there was a handmade “windshield” protecting Seamus from the impact of wind coming directly from the front. But anyone who has ridden in the back seat of a car with the windows down—even a bit—knows how much wind comes in from the sides, despite the car’s windshield. In fact, a Nobel prize-winning physicist has said that the crate itself would have created turbulence, changing the airflow over the top of the car. Wind diverted around the sides of the “windshield” would enter into the crate through the side vents and “would buffet the side of the dog.” For twelve hours. Even with the crate for protection, the speed of the car would exert ten pounds of air pressure on Seamus’ head, essentially making him feel like he had a three pound weight pressing on him during all of the highway portions of the ride. On top of all this, he was hosed down with cold water at the rest stop and sent back into the wind.
And what about that brown liquid? Had Seamus just eaten something that upset his stomach? Or was he literally scared s_________? In the many, many times I’ve seen this event discussed and described, it’s been really rare that anyone has mentioned noise. What would it have sounded like, passing an eighteen wheeler? I find them loud and scary even with my car window up, and I understand what those rumbling behemoths really are.
Some folks have suggested that Seamus’ experience would have been no different from riding in the back of a pickup truck. I can’t agree with that. In this instance, size matters. In the bed of a pickup, a dog can move around. The pickup’s cab is significantly more substantial and cuts far more wind than the handmade “windshield.” The high sides of the truck bed would provide shelter for a dog that wanted to curl up and take a nap. It would probably be just as loud passing a semi-truck, but somehow, the dog in the steel pickup seems far less exposed than the one in the plastic crate atop a station wagon, hurtling down the highway.
In no discussion of Seamusgate has a Romney ever said, “Oh, you know, we trained Seamus to ride in the crate on top of the car. Gosh, we spent months getting him used to being up there, taking short trips around the neighborhood, then gradually working up to the highways and byways.” Preparation went as far as making the “windshield,” but never entailed acclimating the dog to the plan.
Cleo rides in a crate when we drive, too. Inside the car, of course. She has a soft blanket to curl up on. The idea, obviously, is that if we ever have an accident, she will be in a contained and protected space; she won’t be thrown about. There have been a couple times I’ve had to stop short, slam on the brakes. Had she not been in the crate, she would have gone flying. As it was, her nose bonked the front, which probably didn’t feel terrific, but wasn’t life threatening.
She has been riding in a car as long as I’ve known her, and still, from time to time she whimpers or grumbles as we accelerate on the freeway or navigate a twisty road. She’s on a cozy blanket, inside her familiar crate, inside a closed car. Every time she whines, I think of Seamus, unheard on the roof, his family out of reach below him, and my heart aches.