There are no dogs in this picture. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

This is not because I am a horrible cynophobe and once, at a formative age, was frightened by a poodle.

Nor is it because if I wanted to be followed everywhere by someone who panted and possessed a limited command of simple verbs, I would need to look no further than my dating life.

Nor is it because I have been on far too many car trips in the back seat with a flatulent dog, and the Romney Solution of placing him on top of the car to battle the elements is a lifelong fantasy.

In general, dogs are bad news. They are something you cry havoc and let slip. The best dog in literature greeted Odysseus by not slobbering on him too much and then quietly dying. The worst dog in literature is Cujo. In general, they fall somewhere in between. Clifford the big red? Clearly a communist. Snoopy? Seems to be suffering from multiple personalities. Cerberus? Three times as much bark as anyone wants.

And Seamus, the Romney setter. He reminds me of Snooki — not in appearance, just in the sense that we will never be rid of him, and I wish we were.

What about the other Romney dog stories — the one where he rescued a neighbor’s dog from drowning? Or the one where he threw another dog’s favorite ball into water and it sank out of sight and both Romney and the dog were deeply saddened? Well, maybe not that second one.

But for crying out loud, if this Seamus Romney story were a horse, it would have been flogged not only to death but also somewhere into the eighth circle of hell by now.

In general, a crate-gate is something you use to keep a dog out of the conversation, not an extended national debate about canine care.

Surely we have extracted every possible ounce of meaning from this tale by now. Gail Collins has inflicted this story on us more than 30 times — and counting.

If you know a man best by the way he treats his dog, we now know Mitt Romney better than we have ever known anyone before.

We have reached the point where Ann Romney now insists — to Diane Sawyer — that Seamus was delighted by the sight of his car-top carrier. And somehow this is news!

Of course, you could argue that it speaks to a larger problem. That is certainly what everyone who invokes it has been doing. “Every story told to humanize Mitt Romney,” they point out, “makes him seem weirder.”

“Most families, when you ask them for funny stories of car trips, don’t immediately leap to the one where the dog’s bowels explode on the car roof.”

A story in The Post Style section today where Mitt Romney’s friends stepped up to tell amusing anecdotes of his young life had the same effect. “At Stanford, he lured rival University of California students into a trap in which his buddies ‘shaved their heads and painted them red,’ according to a 1970 speech at Brigham Young University by his father, George Romney,” the story reported. “One night in Bayonne, in southern France, [George] Keele answered a knock on the door and saw two men, their faces hidden by sheets, ordering him in French to put his hands behind his back, turn around and not utter a word. Keele fled out the back door only to hear Romney, his mask removed, laughing uproariously in the house.”

This is one of those self-perpetuating problems. The more ardently you try to insist that you are cool and normal, the stranger you sound. This is one of those elections that seems to be about everything but the issues involved.

No wonder this story keeps dogging Mitt Romney’s heels.

It’s one thing to groom the potential first lady for the cameras. But first pets are getting top billing now too. Everything but the thing that matters.

Look, if we required our presidents to be normal human beings, that would exclude everybody worth having. Thomas Jefferson fed his bird from his lips and went through the Bible redacting passages with which he disagreed. Abraham Lincoln had a penchant for telling rude jokes. Weed out all the eccentric and you’re left with, at best, Millard Fillmore. And he had a strange name.

Can’t we put the dog down?

Or at least stick the issue in the back seat, where it belongs?