Political Animals: What Kristi Noem’s Dog Killing Says About the Rest of Us

Posted in: Animal Rights

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has long been campaigning to be Donald Trump’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election, so it was hardly surprising that she recently released a book. Politicians seeking higher office frequently write (or have ghost-written for them) memoirs filled with cliches, heartwarming stories of the adversity they supposedly overcame, and the lessons that those experiences taught them (typically in the form of more cliches). What was surprising was that Noem’s new memoir includes a vignette that could well end her Vice Presidential aspirations: she describes how she shot and killed her 14-month-old dog Cricket because, she says in the book, Cricket was untrainable.

I haven’t read and do not intend to read Noem’s memoir, but the excerpts that have been released suggest she was attempting to accomplish two things with the Cricket story, encapsulated in the title and subtitle of her memoir—No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward. The “no going back” part of the Cricket anecdote tells readers that Noem takes responsibility for tough actions. The “truth” part suggests that Noem differs from other politicians in her commitment to telling it like it is even when doing so casts her in a negative light. “I guess if I were a better politician I wouldn’t tell the story here,” she writes in the book.

Noem’s book apparently accomplishes neither goal. As for truth, No Going Back contains various statements that almost certainly are false, including her claims that she met Kim Jong Un, that she canceled a scheduled meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, and that Nikki Haley threatened her. As for sticking to her guns, Noem’s publisher recently announced that at her request it would be “removing a passage regarding Kim Jong Un” from the reprint and audio editions of the memoir. In other words, as Jonah Goldberg cheekily put it, Noem is “going back.”

Noem’s stance as tough-minded leader and consequences-be-damned truth teller were, of course, only ever just that: stances. Did Noem have some ulterior motive for including the Cricket story in her memoir? Perhaps she was writing for an audience of one. After all, Donald Trump hates dogs.

But if Noem was appealing to Trump’s anti-caninism, she probably miscalculated. In addition to being a malignant narcissist and pathological liar, Trump is a consummate political opportunist. He doesn’t need to like dogs to read a poll. Until recently, Noem was not widely known outside South Dakota. It is difficult to imagine that very many swing voters who have now been introduced to her as “the governor who murdered her puppy” will count that fact as a selling point.

Other Republican Animal Killers

Noem’s boasts about killing Cricket (and also a goat) may seem less mysterious when set against the backdrop of other prominent Republican politicians, who seem to have a penchant for taking pleasure in harming defenseless animals.

Mitt Romney famously strapped his dog Seamus to the roof of his car on long road trips, although with Cricket in the news, he has resisted any comparison by explaining that Seamus was up there in a secure kennel and adding: “I didn’t eat my dog. I didn’t shoot my dog.  . . . I loved my dog, and my dog loved me.” Putting aside Romney’s apparent suggestion that Noem ate Cricket, it is not clear that he should be let off the hook, given that Seamus was stuck in his rooftop carrier for a great many hours with barely a break.

To be sure, most stories involving Republicans getting bad press for killing animals do not concern their family pets. Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump have outraged conservationists and others with their lavish hunting trips. Photos from one of the Trump boys’ safaris “show the brothers flanking a crocodile hanging from a tree, smiling behind the horns of a killed waterbuck, and standing together as Eric held a dead leopard.”

Other Republicans court controversy by hunting in ways that seem “unsporting.” For example, Dick Cheney came in for criticism—including from other hunters—for participating in “canned” hunts in which he shot numerous farm-raised and therefore tame and unfearful pheasants and other birds. Similar complaints were heard from critics of Sarah Palin for shooting wolves from aircraft.

The Banality of Animal Slaughter

Palin also received negative attention for an animal-related incident shortly after her unsuccessful bid for the Vice Presidency when, back in Alaska, she answered questions about politics, policy, and her personal plans for three minutes while standing just a few feet in front of a man who was slaughtering turkeys. Palin’s cheerful demeanor and utter indifference to the bloodbath behind her shocked a great many viewers.

Should they have? Palin was at a turkey farm to participate in a familiar ritual that Presidents and governors of both major political parties routinely undertake in the days leading up to Thanksgiving—the “pardoning” of one or two lucky turkeys, who are sent to sanctuaries rather than ending up roasted, sliced, and served with gravy alongside stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. Mitt Romney didn’t eat his dog Seamus, but each year he and other Americans with a wide range of political views eat about a quarter of a billion nameless turkeys, eight billion nameless chickens, and additional billions of other unnamed but certainly not unfeeling animals.

It is fair to scorn Sarah Palin for her casual cruelty. It is appropriate to disdain the Trump boys and Dick Cheney for their macho posturing. And it is righteous to feel outraged on behalf of Cricket, whom Kristi Noem not only killed but also betrayed. Yet there is something amiss—even hypocritical—about holding those views while continuing to participate on a thrice-daily basis in a food system that immiserates and kills billions of creatures who are no less capable of loving life than Cricket and Seamus were.

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Kristi Noem is a Trump sycophant and right-wing provocateur. There are many reasons why she should not be elected to national office, including the fact that she believed that killing a young dog she was insufficiently patient to train would endear her to voters. Her calculation was apparently mistaken but it underscores how cruelty has become a feature, not a bug, of the Trumpified Republican Party.

And yet, unlike the vast majority of people now rightly outraged by Noem’s behavior and attitude, she is right that—at least when it comes to the plight of nonhuman animals—she is more honest than others, and not only other politicians. Unlike most of those who are appalled by Noem, she herself does not draw an arbitrary distinction between the animals we love and the vastly larger number of the animals we unjustly devour.

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