Who could kill a puppy? The twisted confession of a Trump vice presidential candidate

Governor Kristi Noem was one of the favorites to be the Republican’s running mate until she wrote about murdering one of her pets in her memoirs

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem at a Trump rally in Vandalia, Ohio, last March.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem at a Trump rally in Vandalia, Ohio, last March.KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI (AFP via Getty Images)
Iker Seisdedos

Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, has always been obsessed with making it clear that she is a strong, gun-wielding woman in the male universe that is the Republican Party, and that is why she decided to talk in her memoirs about killing one of her puppies, a 14-month-old dog named Cricket.

“Cricket was a wirehair pointer,” Noem writes in No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward, which was published on May 10. “She had come to us from a home that struggled with her aggressive personality.” One day she had guests at her ranch, and they went hunting. Cricket spent the morning running ahead of the party, scaring “birds out of range” and disobeying orders. On the way back, they stopped at a neighbors’ farm, and the dog ran away and killed a few chickens. Noem, who first defines the dog as “untrainable,” goes on to call her a “trained assassin.” Noem writes that Cricket also tried to bite her when she managed to catch it.

“I hated that dog,” she recalls in the book, which is now number nine on the bestsellers list. “At that moment, I realized I had to put her down.” Noem writes. She continues: “This was my dog and my responsibility, and I would not ask someone else to clean up my mess. I stopped the truck in the middle of the yard, got my gun, grabbed Cricket’s leash and led her out into the pasture and down into the gravel pit...” Noel uses an ellipse to hint at what happened. “It was not a pleasant job,” she writes, “but it had to be done.”

But Noem doesn’t stop there. After killing Cricket, Noem decides to shoot the family’s goat, which she described as “nasty and mean” because it had not been castrated. The governor complained that the goat smelled “disgusting, musky, rancid,” and had been a problem on the ranch “for years.” After describing how her actions had surprised a group of workers, who had seen her kill the two animals, Noem concludes: “It’s often messy, ugly, and matter-of-fact, dealing with a problem that no one wants to deal with.”

The macabre confession — which comes towards the middle of the book between a story about meeting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and an explanation of the “Noem doctrine” in matters of international politics — has sparked a huge scandal that seems to have destroyed her chances of being picked as Donald Trump’s vice presidential candidate. In the book, at the end of the controversial episode, Noem acknowledges: “I guess if I were a better politician I wouldn’t tell the story here.” And that is likely the case. If she had been a better politician, she surely would not have ignored the fact that one of the few things that unites Americans in this divisive time is their love — which borders on idolatry among the wealthy elite — for their pets.

Talk about Noem’s memoir began weeks before it was published, when a journalist from The Guardian got a copy of it, read it and, against all odds, found something newsworthy in it. These kinds of books rarely contain anything of interest: they are part of a hard-to-define genre that mixes autobiography with morals, where the author tries to sum up their political ideology and showcase their credentials to make the leap to national politics.

Donald Trump y Kristi Noem
Donald Trump and Kristi Noem at a rally in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 2018.Susan Walsh (AP/ LaPresse)

From reading the 260-page memoir, Ron Charles, literary critic for The Washington Post, sarcastically compares Noem to a “Flannery O’Connor character with tax cuts.” By sharing her account of killing her puppy, Noem appears to try to show that she is a tough and determined woman, attributes which have helped her become the first female governor in South Dakota history, and a benchmark in the extreme and very masculine MAGA universe. She has also proved her MAGA credentials with her moves in line with Trump: last week, for example, she banned seven of the state’s tribes from accessing tribal land after accusing them, without evidence, of benefitting from Mexican drug cartels.

In No Going Back, she is also not afraid to say what she thinks, and that includes her opinions on some fellow Republicans, who she calls “losers.” She also writes about an anecdote involving North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un when she was a congresswoman, which has since been proven false, and about the similarities between her three-year-old granddaughter Addie and Trump.

“Stunning self-destruction”

Noem has been at least consistent: she has stood by her actions since the scandal broke out, defending her decisions to kill her puppy both on social media and on weekend talk shows, amid the criticism, jokes and also friendly fire, from figures such as veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove. Rove defined the episode in The Wall Street Journal as an act of “stunning self-destruction.”

And Trump? Up until last week, the former president had not commented on the plight of one of his staunchest admirers in the party. He finally broke his silence on the matter at a private fundraising event in New York, in the presence of several of his unofficial VP contenders. “I’m really curious about the dog,” he said in an amused tone, according to the accounts of those present, who observed more sympathy than criticism in his words. “[Noem’s] been there for us for a long time,” he added. “She’s loyal, she’s great.”

Lyndon Johnson, with his two beagle dogs, 'Him' and 'Her', in 1964, in an image that caused controversy due to the way the president pulled their ears.
Lyndon Johnson, with his two beagle dogs, 'Him' and 'Her', in 1964, in an image that caused controversy due to the way the president pulled their ears.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Trump is perfectly capable of going against the tide and choosing Noem as his running mate. After all, he is known to value loyalty above almost any other virtue. What’s more, he hates dogs, an oddity for a U.S. president. There is a long history of dogs in the White House: from Fala, the Scottish terrier immortalized in a bronze statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington; Bo, the Obamas’ poodle; and Lyndon Johnson’s two beagles. Johnson sparked controversy when he was photographed holding one of the dogs by the ears. Unlike Noem, he never killed his pets, but the male beagle was killed by the White House limousine.

Joe Biden also has a dog by his side. The family’s latest pet is a troublesome German shepherd named Commander. Last October, he was taken from the presidential residence after at least a dozen attacks on White House staff. In her book, Noem brings up Commander. “A dog who bites is dangerous and unpredictable (are you listening, Joe Biden?),” the governor writes. She picks up the argument later in the final chapter, when she fantasizes about what she would do if she were president: “I’d make sure Joe Biden’s dog was nowhere on the grounds (‘Commander, say hello to Cricket for me’).”

Joe Biden Casa Blanca
Commander, the Bidens' German shepherd, at the White House, in September 2023.KEN CEDENO (REUTERS)

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