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Don’t forget the poor Goat. He was baaaaaad too!

(South Dakota Searchlight)

Since Gov. Kristi Noem’s disclosure of her farmyard killing spree, everybody’s been focused on Cricket.

That’s understandable. Cricket was a 14-month-old dog. It’s easy to imagine her head jutting out of a pickup window, hair and tongue blowing in the wind. Like many dogs, Cricket probably had a personality and other human-like qualities that we so often attribute to canine companions.

Noem shot and killed Cricket on some undisclosed date years ago for being bad at pheasant hunting and good at chicken hunting. The moral, Noem wrote, is that leaders deal with problems immediately. That makes her a “doer,” she claimed, not an “avoider.”

That’s pure bunk, as millions of people have pointed out in an avalanche of criticism since The Guardian obtained an early copy and revealed some of the contents of Noem’s ironically named memoir, “No Going Back.” The relevant pages have since been shared with South Dakota Searchlight, which requested an advance copy but was ignored; the book’s official publication date is next Tuesday.

Again, the focus on Cricket makes sense, because we can all see that Noem could’ve taken the dog to a shelter and given it another chance at life.

But if you’ll hear me out, I want to tell you why Cricket’s fate is the wrong place to focus your attention.

If you really want to understand Kristi Noem, you need to consider the goat.

Gov. Kristi Noem delivers the state of the state on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.
‘I spotted our billy goat’
After Noem made the death march to her farm’s gravel pit, where she shot Cricket, she was apparently still in an uncontrollable rage.

“Walking back up to the yard, I spotted our billy goat,” Noem wrote.

The nameless goat’s only sin in that moment was being in Noem’s field of view.

In the book, Noem tried to justify her snap decision to kill the goat by writing that it “loved to chase” her children and would “knock them down and butt them,” leaving them “terrified.” The animal also had a “wretched smell.”

But apparently none of that had been a big enough problem to do anything about it. Not until Noem got angry enough to kill a dog and decided she needed to kill again.

Noem says she “dragged” the goat to the gravel pit, “tied him to a post,” and shot at him. But the goat jumped when she shot.

“My shot was off and I needed one more shell to finish the job,” she wrote.

She studiously avoided saying she wounded the goat with the first shot, but that’s the implication.

“Not wanting him to suffer,” she added — apparently experiencing her first twinge of feeling, after saying that killing the dog was not “pleasant” — “I hustled back across the pasture to the pickup, grabbed another shell, hurried back to the gravel pit, and put him down.”

The goat story not only reflects a disturbing lack of self-control, but also raises a question of law.

The crime of animal cruelty
Noem has defended her shooting of the dog, citing legal justification for her actions. She’s likely referencing a state law that exempts from the definition of animal cruelty “any reasonable action taken by a person for the destruction or control of an animal known to be dangerous, a threat, or injurious to life, limb, or property.”

Cricket killed a neighbor’s chickens and “whipped around to bite” Noem when she intervened; therefore, by Noem’s logic, her killing of Cricket was legally defensible. She’s probably right, legally speaking.

But what about the goat?

Sure, it chased children, butted them, and smelled bad. “So, a goat,” Stephen Colbert deadpanned during his Monday monologue on “The Late Show,” speaking for everybody who’s ever been around goats. If those traits meet the legal definition of “dangerous, a threat, or injurious to life, limb, or property,” killing any goat would always be legally justified.

In reality, what Noem did to the goat — dragging it to a gravel pit, tying it to a post, shooting at it once, leaving to get another shell, and shooting it again — sounds an awful lot like the legal definition of animal cruelty. That definition in South Dakota law is “to intentionally, willfully, and maliciously inflict gross physical abuse on an animal that causes prolonged pain, that causes serious physical injury, or that results in the death of the animal.”

Alas, cruelty to animals is a Class 6 felony, and lower-class felonies like that carry a seven-year statute of limitations in South Dakota. We don’t know exactly what year it was when Noem shot her dog and goat. She gave a clue in the book when she wrote that her children came home on the school bus the day of the killings and one of them asked, “Where’s Cricket?” Noem didn’t say how she responded, and all of her children are now grown.

If that was more than seven years ago, the goat killing is probably not prosecutable. But no prosecution could do more damage to Noem’s reputation and career than she’s already done to herself by writing about her animal bloodthirst.

As Noem wrapped up her bloody tale in the book, she wrote that being a leader is often “messy” and “ugly.”

In her case, it certainly is.

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