I watched this when it came out, it would be a few years until I gave up on the show. I thought this episode was funny. It was nice to see compassionate yet stupid Homer before he turned in to Jerk Ass Homer full time. I thought applying the 90's Xtreme!! attitude ala Dennis Rodman to an animal was funny. I am surprised we didn't see more of that in real life. Kangaroo Jack wouldn't come out for another 3 years. Yet again "Simpson's did it first". There were lots of laughs, a coherent plot and several things going on at once. That was something I loved about the show and something it lost a few years after this episode.
I think a lot of the hate comes from the digs at Bill Clinton. By the time this was in reruns the 2000 election had happened. Culturally I think that was a tuning point for a lot of people and even a lot of media. People that years ago would have laughed at a joke about "their guy" as long as it was funny. After 2000 we saw the rise of everything being political all the time. That phenomenon is part of what killed the Simpson's for me. I watch a show like the Simpson's to be entertained not lectured to.