Getty Images/Jessica Kourkounis Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during the Tri-State Tax Day Tea Summit April 16, 2012 at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

WASHINGTON – The sorry tale of Seamus, the Irish setter who spent 12 stressful hours atop Mitt Romney’s station wagon on a road trip to Canada, is back in the spotlight after the Republican front-runner and his wife faced questions about the 1983 incident in a high-profile prime-time interview.

“The dog loved it,” a laughing Ann Romney told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an interview earlier this week.

“He would see that crate and, you know, he would go crazy because he was going with us on vacation. It was to me a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for two weeks.”

Sawyer, however, questioned the extent of Seamus’s enjoyment as he sat in a windy crate on the roof of the car for 12 hours. She pointed out the dog had experienced intestinal distress during the drive from Boston to the Lake Huron community of Grand Bend, Ont., where the Romney family still owns a cottage.

According to a 2007 Boston Globe profile of Mitt Romney, his disgusted boys alerted their father to the fact that Seamus was suffering from diarrhoea as they made their way to the cottage.

Romney stopped at the next service station, hosed down the dog, the car and the carrier, returned Seamus to his stoop and continued to Canada.

Ann Romney said the dog, who died a few years later after spending his golden years with Romney’s sister on her California ranch, got sick only once travelling that way.

“We travelled all the time — and he ate the turkey on the counter. I mean, he had the runs,” she said in an attempt to explain Seamus’s stomach issues en route to Canada.

Seamus’s plight was recounted to the Globe five years ago by one of Mitt Romney’s five sons in an apparent attempt to illustrate his father’s crisis management skills. That effort has apparently backfired, with many suggesting it reveals a chilling lack of compassion.

New York Times columnist Gail Collins, in particular, has kept the story alive by mentioning Seamus — “floating like a furry maraschino cherry on top of the car” — almost every time she’s written about Romney since he launched his second presidential campaign last year.

Romney’s political rivals, including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and David Axelrod, U.S. President Barack Obama’s top strategist, have attempted to capitalize on the story. Late-night talk show hosts like David Letterman, meantime, have mocked Romney mercilessly for his treatment of the late Seamus.

Public Policy Polling even conducted a survey last month on Romney’s “dog problem,” finding that 68 per cent of voters, including most Republicans, considered it inhumane to travel with a dog on the roof of a car.

Seamus’s ordeal has angered dog-lovers, spawned a website and Facebook page called Dogs Against Romney and inspired a book entitled: “Hey Mitt! Dogs Don’t Go There!”

Dogs Against Romney, in fact, arranged for its supporters to flood the ABC website in advance of Sawyer’s Monday interview with the Romneys, beseeching her to ask the couple questions about Seamus.

Since she did, the Seamus outrage has a new lease on life. And this time, the well-liked Ann Romney, considered one of her husband’s best campaign weapons, is also a target.

“Ann Romney is even more of a hardened sociopath about torture than Dick Cheney, because even he doesn’t wander around telling teevee show hosts that the detainees really seemed to enjoy it,” the satirical website Wonkette.com joked on Tuesday.

Sawyer asked Mitt Romney if he’d ever again transport a dog that way.

“Certainly not with the attention it’s received,” he replied. He also acknowledged Seamus’s story had been “the most wounding” to his campaign.

That response prompted anger anew on various social media platforms.

“Wrong reason,” one Twitter user wrote.

Dogs Against Romney creator Scott Crider also expressed dismay.

“In other words, Mr. Romney still sees nothing wrong with what he did … and the only reason he wouldn’t do it again is to avoid personal political backlash,” he said Tuesday.

“It is stunning — and disappointing — that the Romneys just don’t get it.”

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