The GOP presidential candidates: Animal friends or foes?

We know from that seemingly endless series of Republican debates where the candidates stand on the economy, foreign policy and social issues.

What about animal welfare?

With the political eyes of the nation on Iowa, which holds its caucus on Tuesday, we thought it timely to take a look at the animal welfare scorecards of the remaining seven candidates.


Mitt Romney - We have to start with Romney because no candidate has gotten more bad pet press. The controversy stems from a 2007 revelation that Romney had strapped the family's Irish Setter to the roof of their station wagon for the 12-hour-ride from Boston to the family vacation home in Canada in 1983. Apparently that wasn't the only roof-top ride Seamus the setter (pictured above) endured. The Romney's dismissed any suggestion that it was cruel, saying Seamus "enjoyed the ride." The issue was raised again during the 2012 campaign, notably in the work of New York Times columnist Gail Collins who reminds readers of Romney's actions at every opportunity. Perhaps even worse though for Romney is the less-discussed fact that Seamus didn't even live out his life with the Mitt Romney and his family. At some point Seamus was shipped to his sister in California. For the full story see PolitFact report here.

As an elected official, Romney's record was mixed, reports the Humane Society of the United States:

He appointed a raft of animal-unfriendly people to the state Fisheries and Wildlife Board, even though Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure calling for more balanced wildlife policy. He vetoed a bill that would have given students the right to choose alternatives to animal dissection in the classroom. He did, however, sign a number of animal protection bills into law, including measures to strengthen the animal cruelty and animal fighting laws and prevent a convicted animal abuser from getting the animal back.

Michelle Bachmann - The HSUS reports Bachmann has received generally low marks on animal issues during her tenure in the U.S. Congress, earning an 8 percent and 13 percent out of 100 on the HSUS scorecard during the last three terms.

She has supported only a handful of animal protection bills during her congressional career, voting for measures to make animal fighting a federal felony, to ban commerce in animal crush videos, and to pair veterans with service dogs for therapy. She also supported an amendment in the House this year to limit agriculture subsidy payments to factory farms. She has, however, opposed most animal welfare measures, including modest reforms to ban the trade in dangerous primates as pets, to stop the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses from public lands, to prohibit the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, and to assist conservation programs that protect rare cats and dogs, cranes, marine turtles, and sea otters. She also voted to use tax dollars to kill wildlife as a subsidy to private livestock ranchers, and to block the Environmental Protection Agency from collecting data on greenhouse gases from factory farms.

Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania Senator gets the highest marks from HSUS:

Of all the candidates who have served in Congress, Santorum was arguably the most active on animal protection issues. He earned a 60 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, and an 80 percent for the 109th Congress. But more importantly, he was the lead sponsor of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS) to crack down on large-scale commercial puppy mills, and held a hearing on the bill when he was the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation. He was also a leader in the Senate urging adequate funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and other animal welfare programs. He co-sponsored legislation to establish federal felony penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, co-sponsored legislation to require the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of pets, and voted to stop the slaughter of American horses for food exports.

Newt Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House and Pennsylvania native has been a zoo lover since he was a young boy when his proposal to start a zoo in Harrisburg got national coverage. In Congress, Gingrich rated 21 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 103rd Congress, but did not have scores for later sessions because the speaker typically does not vote. HSUS notes among his more controversial voters were those to allow sport hunting in the Mojave National Preserve and to allow foreign aid dollars to be used to promote trophy hunting of elephants and other species. He did cosponsor legislation to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and is the only presidential candidate to discuss the importance of the human-animal bond on the campaign trail, writes Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund in his blog Animals & Politics.

John Huntsman - As Utah governor Huntsman championed efforts to protect animals, including calling a special session of the legislature to address the state's weak animal cruelty statute. The result was Henry's Law, named after a tortured dog, which established felony-level penalties for cruelty. At the bill signing in 2008 Huntsman said: “As we treat our animals, so do we treat our fellow human beings. There is a connection there that I think is undeniable.” He also signed a number of animal protection bills into law including measures to create pet spay/neuter fund to ban remote controlled shooting of live animals over the internet.

Ron Paul - During his tenure in Congress, Paul has generally received low marks on the Humane Scorecard - between zero and 14 percent - although he is on track to earn 25 percent for 2011. Among his controversial votes:

Allowing the slaughter of American horses for food exports, the killing of Yellowstone National Park bison, the trophy shooting of bears over piles of bait on federal lands, the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses from public lands, the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, and the slaughter of downer livestock too sick or injured to walk on their own.

He voted to block EPA from collecting data on factory farm emissions and voted against conservation legislation to protect rare cats and dogs, cranes, marine turtles, and sea otters. He was one of only a handful of lawmakers who opposed legislation to ban commerce in animal crush videos, to provide for pets in disaster planning, to ban the trade in dangerous primates as pets, to make dogfighting and cockfighting a felony, and to fund the enforcement of the federal animal fighting law.

He has supported a handful of animal protection measures, to bar the trade in big cats as pets, to pair veterans with service dogs, and to cut funding for several government programs that harm animals, such as agriculture subsidies, lethal predator control, trapping on national wildlife refuges, and trophy hunting programs in foreign countries.

Rick Perry - As Texas governor Perry has had a strong pro-animal record. He signed a number of animal protection bills including measures to strengthen animal cruelty and animal fighting laws multiple times, to regulate private ownership of exotics, to require animals in disaster planning and to protect bats. Perry also signed bill establishing pet trusts and to restrict dog tethering - similar legislation has been proposed in the last three sessions of the Pennsylvania legislature, but failed to get any traction, we might add. Perry vetoed a bill that would have allowed large counties to adopt ordinances regulating the roadside sale of animals, authorized the shooting of feral hogs from helicopters and the shooting of wild burros in Big Bend State Park (although members of his staff indicate that they are willing to find non-lethal alternatives.)