Before the holidays New York Times columnist Gail Collins defiantly noted that she wouldn't stop mentioning the time Romney made his dog ride to Canada on the roof of the family car no matter what her critics said, but since then we fear "crate-gate" has gone and jumped the shark. In case you missed one of Collins's more than 30 mentions of the story, "crate-gate" refers to the Romney family story in which Seamus the dog defecated while riding to Canada in a wind-blocked crate atop the car in 1983. Since we talked to Collins last month, she has dutifully mentioned Seamus at least two more times. It's continuing her nice little inside joke with readers. But crate-gate is also getting some play elsewhere. Some would-be comedians showed up to a  South Carolina Romney event with a stuffed dog strapped to a crate strapped to their car with the sign "Dogs against Romney" (with an accompanying website.) Fun! Then someone registered SpreadingRomney.com which links to a story about crate-gate, apparently in an effort to give Romney a "Google problem" akin to (although orders of magnitude less gross than) Rick Santorum's. Ha, good one guys.

This week, in a Boston Globe Magazine piece, Neil Swidey, the reporter who first uncovered the story of Seamus' wild ride, sort of shakes his head at the way the tale has been spun and abused, wondering if it will end up the first line in his obituary. He cites Wired senior editor Bill Wasik's prediction, as Swidey puts it, that "the Seamus citations will become more political and more plentiful if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, as President Obama partisans use it to paint Romney as a cruel character who, as Wasik puts it, will 'sort of tie us all to the roof of the car.'" As if on cue, "angry little attack muffin" Newt Gingrich, apparently open to any way of criticizing Romney, is bandwaggoning with the "crate-gate" camp. Gingrich's web ad released Wednesday called "For the Dogs," rehashes several infamous Romney quotes and ends with an interview between him and Fox News's Chris Wallace where Wallace "grills" Romney on the anecdote. Running with it, Hot Air is now actually investigating whether Romney has flip-flopped on his version of crate-gate events.

No.

Now we're calling foul. Crate-gate used to be a fun inside joke! A small, humorous way to point to an example of Romney's perhaps too rigid problem-solving skills. The story had animals and bathroom humor, just like Chevy Chase's Vacation movies.  But we're not sure it should have risen to the level of genuine inter-party debate. It's making the line a little less fun. If Swidey has this right, Gingrich is just loosening the top of the jar for Democrats this fall so there's a lot more stuffed-animal-laden-parked-cars to come, but never again will we feel like its our private littlememe-meld with Gail Collins. She did not have any comment on what it was like to see her private joke star in a real-live campaign ad, but earlier she swore to us that she'll stop mentioning the dog story as soon as the nomination battle is over. The battle may mostly be finished, but as it reaches the ugly conclusion, she might consider stepping back and letting someone else beat the dead horse. Or dog. Or something.