May 7, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Governor Kristi Noem didn’t have to shoot her dog. She wanted to

Her story is about inflicting suffering on those who are "useless."

Courtesy of Newsmax, via screenshot.
Courtesy of Newsmax, via screenshot.

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I trust the readers of the Editorial Board will correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t recall having paid attention to Kristi Noem. The GOP governor of South Dakota pops into my field of vision now and then, recently as a leading candidate for Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick. Other than that, I haven’t been interested.

I wasn’t interested even after The Guardian broke the story, on April 26, about the time she shot and killed her 14–month-old dog, an episode she recounts in her new campaign book, No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward

While sensational and humiliating (for Noem), I didn’t think the story had legs. There might be something to say, but by the time I said it, something else would come along to commandeer our attention. 

In her book, she said the story illustrates her readiness to do anything “difficult, messy and ugly” if it must be done. Democracy is full of choices, but authoritarians like her don’t see them. Like Cricket, someone has to suffer, and she’s willing to inflict that suffering.

Noem wrote that the dog, named Cricket, was “untrainable” and “dangerous to anyone she came in contact with” and “less than worthless … as a hunting dog.” She tried taking her hunting with older dogs to train her, but that failed. The dog went “out of her mind with excitement, chasing all those birds and having the time of her life.” 

Later, Cricket escaped Noem’s truck to attack chickens on a nearby farm, “crunching” one of them “to death with one bite, then dropping it to attack another.” Noem said “I realized I had to put her down.” 

She took the puppy to a gravel pit. 

“It was not a pleasant job,” she wrote, “but it had to be done.”

The reaction has been impressive. It wasn’t just the quote-unquote effete liberals who were outraged. Even the trolliest rightwing trolls disapproved. Politico reported that she “badly miscalculated.” “The particulars of her dog-killing story — Noem chronicled how she got her gun, led Cricket to a gravel pit and put her down with a single shot — made her come off as cruel and uncaring. The backlash to her story continues to chew through news cycle after news cycle, potentially torpedoing her chances of becoming a vice presidential candidate.”

That’s what’s getting my attention – that this story, which is otherwise forgettable, “continues to chew through news cycle after news cycle.” The story broke three weeks ago. Yet Noem was on Fox last night

Host Jesse Watters, that unrepentant putz, seemed to be keen on rehabilitating her standing. He let her characterize her choice as one that any mother would make to protect her children from a “vicious” animal that attacked people “for the joy of it.” It might be a parody if it weren’t intended to persuade Trump that Noem is a viable VP pick.

This is where I have something to say.

Noem probably liked killing her dog. 

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I say “probably,” because I’m not a therapist, nor am I a mind reader. But all things considered, she wanted to shoot that dog. She wanted to inflict suffering, not relieve suffering. I suspect that’s the true basis for her decision, and the true beginning and end of the story. Everything else is a rationalization for doing what she already knew she shouldn’t. 

The key here is this: “It had to be done,” she said. 


There’s a lot you can do with a dog you don’t want. You can give it away. You can send it to a shelter. You can call in a dog trainer. You can put it on serious sedatives. You can dump it on the side of the road. Point is, there are lots of choices. Some good, some bad. She did not have to shoot her dog. Saying she had to rationalizes her wanting to.

She doesn’t stop there in her book. Rationalizing became conning. She suggests that shooting a dog is totally normal when you work with animals. “We love animals,” she wrote, “but tough decisions like this happen all the time on a farm. Sadly, we just had to put down three horses a few weeks ago that had been in our family for 25 years.” 

That’s a con.

People who work with animals on farms and ranches actually don’t shoot animals for being “useless.” Animals cost money. If they don’t serve their purpose, find another purpose! Anyway, if you do choose to shoot an animal, its use is beside the point. Suffering is the point. I assume those three horses that had been in Noem’s family for 25 years were put down because they were suffering from old age and disease. 

Her dog, it bears repeating, was 14 months old.

No, she wanted to shoot that dog. 

More importantly, she wanted to talk about shooting that dog, because talking about shooting that dog sends a message, not only to Donald Trump, who might pick her as a vice presidential candidate. 

In her book, she said the story illustrates her readiness to do anything “difficult, messy and ugly” if it must be done. Democracy is full of choices, but authoritarians like her don’t see them. Like Cricket, someone has to suffer, and she’s willing to inflict that suffering.

As I was writing, Noem was on Newsmax. An anchor there accused her of fabricating a meeting, recounted in her book, with the North Korean dictator. I should have known better than to spend my day writing about her. Something else did come along to take our attention from her dog-shooting story. I just didn’t know that something would be Noem admitting he was right and falling to pieces on live television.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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