In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Mayor Giuliani seemed as sure a bet as you could hope for as the Republican candidate destined to seek the White House in 2008. He rallied his city amid the rubble of the Twin Towers. His, not Bush's, was the firm voice of resolve.

            Since that apex in popular esteem, Giuliani's course has been unsteady. His business enterprises and associates have come under unsparing scrutiny, prime among them his former New York City police chief, Bernie Kerik, a former prison warder plucked from obscurity by Giuliani. Last week, prosecutors informed Kerik he will be indicted for serious offenses including tax evasion and misleading federal investigators (Martha Stewart's ticket to conviction).

            Though political professionals licked their lips at the political minefield facing Giuliani courtesy of the misfortunes of his former business partner, the American people did not seem unduly troubled, any more than they have been by political Washington's other prime obsession, the firings by U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzales of some federal prosecutors.

            Until recently, the American people were thinking mainly about the circumstances of Anna Nicole Smith's demise and the likely inheritor of the former Playmate's millions. Now Anna Nicole Smith has been swept off the front pages, along with the beleaguered Gonzales, by the pet food crisis. An ever-lengthening list of proprietary brands of dog and cat food sold in the United States all come from the same Canadian pet food processor, Menu Foods, into whose vats at some point went wheat gluten from China contaminated by melamine, a fertilizer used in Asia, where -- not to put too fine a point on it -- pet life is cheap.

            Only a few animals have died, and America's cats and dogs are at greater risk from lightening strikes, but most Americans are fearfully eying their pets for signs of renal failure. Into this firestorm of national anguish now has been tossed the news that Mrs. Judi Giuliani was once in the dog-killing business. This disclosure came on the heels of the news that Judi had not been entirely forthcoming about the number of her legal unions. Like Rudy himself, it turns out she's on her third. The hitherto undisclosed numero uno, whom she married at age 19, was a salesman at U.S. Surgical, a company selling surgical staples. Young Judi's job was allegedly to demonstrate their efficacy on cuts made on drugged dogs.

            According to Patricia Feral, president of the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, quoted on the New York Post online, which broke the story earlier this week, U.S. Surgical's reps did sales-demonstration stapling on hundreds of dogs through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Feral says the dogs were "either put to death following the sales demonstrations because they can't recover from them, or they die during them." The stapling had to be done on live dogs because, as one U.S. Surgical CEO put it back in the 1980s, "A dead dog doesn't bleed. You need to have real blood-flow conditions, or you get a false sense of security." Giuliani's campaign spokesman declined comment on the charges about Judi's hands-on role.

            Americans like their First Family to have a dog. They think it means at least one honest creature is lodged at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Nixon used to put sesame seeds in the turn-ups of his trousers so his spaniel, King Timahoe, would nuzzle him in public. "Any man who does not like dogs and not want them about does not deserve to be in the White House," said President Calvin Coolidge.

            Giuliani has been saying that as president, he would regard Judi as co-president -- present at cabinet meetings, her hand next to his on the driving wheel. There are a lot of dog lovers who now see Judi's hand as one grasping an instrument of dog torture, unfit for any high calling.

            So it looks like it's curtains for the Giuliani campaign. One of his main rivals, the choleric Sen. John McCain is in trouble for claiming it's safe to walk around Baghdad. This puts the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, in a stronger position than he dared hope a few weeks ago. Romney is a Mormon, thus associated in the American mind with tolerance for marriages not even serial in their prolixity, like the Giulianis'. The Democrats have the choice of a woman (Clinton) who has raised truckloads of cash for her campaign, a black man (Obama), who has raised as many truckloads or a white man -- Edwards, whose popular wife Liz is bravely battling terminal cancer. Speculation at this stage in the game is idle. The first real test is nearly a year away, in Iowa -- where Edwards may do well, even though Hillary for the moment is far ahead of her rivals -- both in positive and negative measurements.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.