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I’m Sad for Kristi Noem’s Daughter, Not Just Her Puppy

The South Dakota governor traumatized her child by killing her dog.

Joan Walsh

April 30, 2024

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem speaks at an event with Donald Trump in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024. (Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP via Getty Images)

Hey, where’s Cricket?”

Too many takedowns of Kristi Noem’s dog-murdering cruelty leave out the cruelest part: Her daughter, Kennedy, then 7, came home on the school bus shortly after her mother shot her 14-month-old wire-hair pointer puppy, and asked her mom where the adorable dog went.

“Kennedy looked around confused,” Noem wrote of her daughter, who asked: “Hey, where’s Cricket?”

We don’t learn Kristi’s answer to her daughter. But we do know the governor shot Cricket in the head after the dog roughed up pheasants as well as a neighbor’s chickens on an ill-fated hunting afternoon, and left her body in a gravel pit.

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“I hated that dog,” she writes.

I’m not sure how much young Kennedy was privy to about her puppy’s demise—until her mom has made this a kind of MAGA origin story as she tries out to be Trump’s vice president. Trump hates dogs; she murders dogs; she should be a great fit!

Except she’s not going to be. As Trump himself might say, with this story Noem “choked like a dog.” Her career outside of South Dakota is over.

Before this, Noem had been widely mocked for her slogan about the state’s efforts to combat a rampant methamphetamine problem: “Meth: We’re on it!” That was brilliant by comparison. She’s hit a decisive new low.

Noem’s upcoming memoir, No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward, was meant to make her a top Trump VP hopeful. Instead, it made her a great candidate for psychiatric care. Apparently, Noem doesn’t bother telling how she answered her daughter as to Cricket’s whereabouts (dead in a nearby gravel pit, dear). She does answer those who suggest she should have been prosecuted for her animal cruelty, even in South Dakota.

“The fact is, South Dakota law states that dogs who attack and kill livestock can be put down,” she added in a social media statement, after the Internet went crazy about the story. “Given that Cricket had shown aggressive behavior toward people by biting them, I decided what I did.”

“Decided” is an interesting word. “I hated that dog,” Noem writes in her book. “Hate” rarely leads to a clean “decided.” But Noem also held up the day’s events as testimony to her ability to do whatever she needed to, however “difficult, messy and ugly,” on the farm or in politics. Did I mention she also killed a messy, ugly, stinky goat she owned at the same time? That goat didn’t die easy; it took two shots. She left both dead animals in that same pit.

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In a statement, an animal welfare group interviewed by The Guardian said this: “There’s no rational and plausible excuse for Noem shooting a juvenile dog for normal puppy-like behavior.” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, went on: “If she is unable to handle an animal, ask a family member or a neighbor to help. If training and socializing the dog doesn’t work, then give the dog to a more caring family or to a shelter for adoption.”

I find myself most concerned about Kennedy, now 27. A central trauma of my life was having to give up our golden retriever, 4-year-old Brandy, after our mother died when I was 17. Brandy literally went to live on a farm—no, I wasn’t lied to—it was my brother’s friend’s farm, and we visited him there! He was beloved and extremely happy, he lived to be 17, which in 80-pound golden retriever years is amazing. Still, though he was happy there, the loss to me was traumatic.

Maybe 7 is different from 17. Maybe it’s not. Maybe Kennedy is just learning the details of how her mother put a bullet in Cricket’s head. Or maybe she’s already been indoctrinated in the way of cruel rural folks who insist this is how you treat dogs (it isn’t, not among rural folks who aren’t cruel and/or crazy). Either way, I hope Noem’s daughter gets or got the help she needs. In order to tell this bloody story, right now, Kristi Noem must be narcissistic at best, sociopathic at worst. I’m glad it will rule her out of the Veepstakes. Too bad it didn’t rule her out of the dog-owner stakes. Maybe even the mom stakes.

Joan WalshTwitterJoan Walsh, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, is a coproducer of The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show and the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America. Her new book (with Nick Hanauer and Donald Cohen) is Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power and Wealth In America.

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