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About the Romney dog

There is a famous story (it may be apocryphal, of course) about Richard Nixon and his dog. No, I don't mean the Checkers speech, the one where Nixon saved his integrity by invoking his little dog, Checkers, and his wife's cloth coat. This one came later, after he lost, during the famous Bel Air fire. The story is that as he was fleeing his house, Nixon left his dog.

When it comes to friends, it's hard to beat a dog. Harry Truman, it is said, once was told that if you want a real friend in Washington, get a dog. But friendship -- really, love -- should be a two-way street.

I am the mother of three loving dogs: Judy Jarvis Estrich, Molly Isabel Estrich and Irving A. Estrich. Sometimes, being the worrywart that I am, I actually spend time thinking about how I would round up my dogs in the car in case there was a tsunami or a fire. It goes without saying that I would never leave without them.

This brings me to the subject of today's column: the Romney dog. If, as it appears likely, Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for president, we're all going to be getting an education on venture capital firms and whether they create jobs or destroy them. We'll all be watching the numbers to see whether, in these tough times, the 99 percent who used to aspire to be part of the 1 percent have now turned on the Romneys of the world.

All that is important, but it's also complicated -- unlike a man and his dog.

Presidential elections are, in a very fundamental way, tests of character. You can't predict all the issues or crises that will face the person you elect president, which means that character, ultimately, counts for more than position papers and platforms.

And in my book, as a dog lover, nothing tells you as much about a person's character as how he treats his dog.

So what are we to make of that infamous family vacation during which Romney put the dog in a crate on top of the car -- for 12 hours? Or the more recent revelations that the dog and the crate had to be hosed down a few hours into the trip when his bowels gave way?

Respected New York Times columnist Gail Collins finds a way to get the dog into every column she writes about Romney. It's become a popular sort of puzzle: How will she get the dog in?

I've met Romney's family. They seem like very nice people. I'm sure they all loved their dog. Some people leave their dogs at home when they take vacations. The Romneys brought theirs. And with a car full of kids, there was apparently no room for the dog in the car.

I didn't have a dog growing up (my mother was afraid of them), so I don't really know whether it was common in those days for people to put their dog on the roof of their car. I'm sure I'll hear from plenty of people who claim they've done it and the dog was just fine. Still, it's hard for me to imagine putting one of the Estrich dogs anywhere other than the back seat. Judy does like to ride in the front, but really, the back is safer.

Someone once said to me that heaven is where you meet all the dogs you've loved and lost. Maybe Hershey Estrich Kaplan is there waiting for me. I don't know whether Checkers was waiting for Nixon, or whether the Romney dog ended up having a fine vacation and a good life after that tough 12-hour trip and will welcome his family when that day comes.

I'm not a Romney voter, so maybe it doesn't matter. But I don't think I'm alone in this. Before I decide what I think about this man's character, I need to know more about that trip -- and that dog.