Dogged Times Op-Ed Columnist Gail Collins Will Not Let 'Crate Gate' Drop

crategate1 Dogged Times Op Ed Columnist Gail Collins Will Not Let 'Crate Gate' Drop“You’re the third person to contact me about this this week!” Gail Collins said through laughter when we reached her at her desk at The New York Times.

Off the Record had called to inquire about a prominent leitmotif in Ms. Collins bi-weekly op-ed columns, known to her followers as “dog on the roof,” or “Crate Gate.”

The allusion appeared yesterday, as it does just about any time the columnist writes about G.O.P. primary candidate Mitt Romney. She wrote that Mr. Romney’s latest shot at rival Newt Gingrich—“Zany is not what we need in a president”—was a safe stance, seeing as no one could characterize the glaringly square Mormon as such.

“Unless it was when he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon. (‘Hey, Mister, you got an Irish setter on top of your car. What are you, zany or something?’),” she wrote.

With political coverage dominating the op-ed page on the eve of the GOP primary, even casual readers remark upon how frequently Ms. Collins deploys the anecdote, transforming it from a biographical footnote to an emasculating epithet. Fellow Times employees have certainly noticed—a handful have posted pictures of the dog to her office wall, she said.

The anecdote first captivated Ms. Collins when it was published in The Boston Globe during the former Massachusetts governor’s first primary bid in 2007.

On a family road trip to Canada, the story goes, Mr. Romney strapped the family Irish setter Seamus’s crate to the roof, inducing doggie diarrhea that soiled the back windshield and sent the Romney boys into hysterics.

Compromising his anal-retentive itinerary, Mr. Romney “coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station,” the Globe wrote.

“There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway.”

Ms. Collins was less outraged by the possible animal abuse than she was “tickled” by the way the way the story had been cast politically.

“One of his sons told this story as an example of his organizational skills,” she explained.

Seamus has long since passed on, but Ms. Collins carries his torch in her columns, where she has mentioned the incident no less than 30 times since its August 2007 debut (“Haunted by Seamus,” the column was aptly titled) and virtually every time Mr. Romney’s name appears.

She is dead set on bringing it up in every Romney discussion until the primary is over, she told Off the Record.

“Then I cannot do it anymore,” she said.

Not that anyone is stopping her. Op-ed columnists get little more than a copy edit before going to print, Ms. Collins explained.

“[Opinions editor] Andy Rosenthal has not expressed any remorse,” she said.

“Dog on the roof” has even become a jokey refrain in The Conversation, her weekly transcribed chats with David Brooks. He has conspired with Ms. Collins to work it in.

In one particularly whimsical installment, the two envisioned Mr. Romney and Rick Perry trapped in a snowy cave in the White Mountains of New Hampshire—the only circumstances in which Jon Huntsman could feasibly win the state—lounging in animal skins and making cave paintings.

“Romney would paint saber-tooth tigers, riding in cages on the top of his car. (There, got that in),” Mr. Brooks wrote.

“Thanks,” Ms. Collins replied, “I was wondering where I could fit in the dog on the roof.”

Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. did mention Crate Gate once, Ms. Collins admitted, when he noted that she had revived the tale for Mr. Romney’s second bid for the GOP nomination, despite having vowed in print not to mention it again.

(Ms. Collins remembered no such promise, but did lament losing her excuse to bring it up when Mr. Romney dropped out of the 2008 race. “Worst of all, I’m going to have to get through the rest of the year without ever again referring to the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, strapped to the roof of the car,” she wrote at the time.)

“He felt that was a breach,” she said.

To Ms. Collins’ mind, the running gag brings levity to the election grind, which, given the state of things, can get a little grim.

“If you bring in animals it does cheer people up,” she noted.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Well, thanks to Gail, it finally motivated me to Google the episode and read the Globe story.  I have to say, I can’t even imagine anyone doing that to the family dog.  The Romneys were father and mother and five kids, traveling in a big 3-seater Chevrolet station wagon.  There should have been enough room for the dog, even an Irish Setter, but the explanation was that they had a lot of luggage.  Couldn’t Mitt have put the luggage on the roof?  Or attach a U-Haul?  Or take one car and let his wife drive another?  It’s not as if the Romneys were short of money.  And the trip was long.  I’m not taking sides in the Republican primary fight, but people of any political persuasion have to wonder what kind of mean streak could allow somebody to treat a beloved family pet this way.

  2. Anonymous says:

    And I think it’s awful if she drops it for the general election, just when we need it most – if he’s nominated, of course.

  3. Arneas says:

    That Seamus has long since passed on isn’t that much of a surprise.  Are we sure the substance on the rear windshield was diarrhea?

    1. Ladyberyl says:

      Yes,  the Romneys report that it was diarrhea or a substance that emitted from the dog!  The point of the story is not that he was too stupid to NOT put a dog on a roof but that once he saw that the dog was distressed, he didn’t correct it!

  4. Jim says:

    Bi-weekly means every two weeks as in “We have payroll on a bi-weekly basis,” whereas semi-weekly means twice a week as in “we have payroll on a semi-monthly basis, on the 15 and the 30 of each month.”  

  5. T.S.O.L. says:

    I run the Seamus test each time I open a Gail Collins column.  Ctrl-F, search for “roof” “dog” or  “Seamus” and if I get a hit, I pass on the column.  Come on Gail, you’re turning people off.