Subscriber OnlyUS

Not-so-shaggy dog tale may kill off Kristi Noem’s vice presidential hopes

She may be on Trump’s side, but the backlash to the story that she shot pet dog has been partisan

Is Donald Trump a dogs guy? The former president is one of the few White House occupants who did not have a beloved pooch roaming the hallowed corridors and admitted a few years ago that he would feel “phony” having a pet dog. But like many Republicans, he may draw the line at the news that South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, one of his front-runners in the vice presidential stakes, reveals in her forthcoming memoir that she had once shot and killed the family dog after concluding that it was untrainable. And the backlash has been bipartisan.

Noem’s gruesome tale is the opposite of a shaggy dog story. On Friday, The Guardian ran extracts of memoir No Going Back which detailed her jaw-dropping attempts to control Cricket, a 14-month-old hunting dog who ran amok on a pheasant hunt in which he partook with older dogs, “going out of her mind with excitement, chasing all those birds and having the time of her life”.

The final straw came when Cricket managed to escape from the truck while Noem was parked and talking to a local family, whose chicken pen Cricket promptly raided in a bloody rampage which Noem likened to the behaviour of “a trained assassin”.

Noem was aghast, the owners distraught and when Cricket attempted to bite her, Noem realised that she “hated that dog” and that it was “less than worthless as a hunting dog”. So when they got home, she took out her gun, brought Cricket to a gravel pit on the ranch and shot her. For good measure, she used the occasion to also get rid of a “nasty and mean” male goat who’d been part of the family ranch for too long. The nameless goat met the same grisly fate in the gravel pit. Noem writes that it was only afterwards she realised that members of a nearby construction team had silently watched both executions.


It was a staggering admission and after a weekend of heavy criticism, Noem took to X on Sunday night to defend her actions, writing that while she understood “why some people are upset about a 20-year-old story of Cricket”, the book “is filled with many honest stories of my life, good and bad days, challenges, painful decisions and lessons learned.

“The fact is, South Dakota law states that dogs who attack and kill livestock can be put down. Given that Cricket had shown aggressive behaviour towards people by biting them, I decided what I did.”

The problem is that the disturbing tale of Cricket has completely obscured all the other life lessons Noem might wish to share. The timing of the memoir was designed to bolster her vice presidency credentials. Instead, it may have left her ambitions in much the same state as she left Cricket. The anecdote, designed to highlight a Great Plains practicality and a willingness to take tough decisions, was a flabbergasting editorial misjudgment.

While it is fine for American politicians to abuse one another, dogs remain royalty. In 2012, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney found himself with a lot of explaining to do when a story emerged of how, in June 1983, the family’s Red Setter, Seamus, travelled in a carrier on the roof of the Chevrolet on a 650-mile trip from Belmont, in Massachusetts to the Romney lakeside pad on Lake Huron, Ontario. Seamus, it turned out, developed bowel issues on his journey but recovered to live a long fruitful life and the Romneys insisted that he always enjoyed riding in the carrier as a sort of canine Easy Rider.

And not all political pets are adorable. CNN documents obtained under the freedom of information act recently showed that the Biden family dog, Commander has been involved in at least 24 biting incidents of secret service personnel during his White House years and has caused staff members to alter their working habits to avoid the snap-happy German Shepherd.

Noem, meanwhile, will have to bide her time and hope this controversy passes. Her political rise occurred after she left college to manage the family ranch after her father died in an accident. Furious at the South Dakota “death tax”, she entered local politics and eventually won a seat in Congress before returning to serve as governor of her state. But this gaffe may scupper her ambitions of a summer campaign with Donald Trump. If she hated young Cricket back then, it’s not difficult to guess how she must feel now.