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Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: What Happens Next?

In Defense Of Dog-Killer Kristi Noem

There’s a great deal more going on here than meets the eye.


By now, everyone on God’s green Earth has heard the story of how South Dakota rancher and Gov. Kristi Noem shot her 14-month-old dog “Cricket” after it attacked and killed a neighbor’s chickens. Horrified by the carnage, she tried to restrain the chicken-loving canine who bit her for her efforts. Things escalated from there.

“At that moment,” writes Noem, “I realized I had to put her down.” The story is from her upcoming book, No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward.

One might reasonably ask what’s wrong with Noem’s editor. Desensitized though Americans are to the annihilation of the unborn, this is a story few of them can properly categorize. According to Pew Forum, many millions of U.S. households own a dog, and 97 percent of American pet owners consider their pets a part of the family. The inclusion of this episode in her book wasn’t stupidity. It was a failure to read the country beyond the confines of a working ranch or farm, and that is something no candidate for public office can afford to do.

The book is timed to boost the governor’s profile and therefore her chances to be President Trump’s choice as a running mate. But it was more than Cricket that Noem put down that day 20 years ago; it was very probably her vice-presidential hopes. Social media was made for such moments, and Noem has been memed, GIFed, and pilloried as if she had started a proxy war with Russia or voiced her support for irreversible adolescent transgender surgeries.

OK, scratch that. But you get the point.

Apparently, nothing outrages Americans so much as cruelty to animals or what they perceive to be cruelty to animals. Just ask Minnesota’s Walter Palmer, who killed “Cecil the Lion” while hunting in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park in 2015. Cricket, like Cecil before her, became the George Floyd of the animal kingdom overnight. And criticism has come from more than the usual Democrat suspects. Even The Babylon Bee piled on the embattled governor.

But there’s a great deal more going on here than meets the eye, and it tells us a lot about Americans and our penchant for misplaced Tourette-like moral outrage.

The Circle of Life

A fascinating aspect of this “scandal” is to see how people apply a subconscious animal hierarchy to Noem’s story and against which they judge her actions. I have said nothing outrages Americans so much as cruelty to animals or what they perceive to be cruelty to animals. But that’s not quite true. Some animals would be more accurate.

Let’s remember that Noem tells of the demise of more than her dog. Cricket, she discovered, was a chicken-killer. Where’s the moral outrage at this dog’s cruelty to these innocent fowl? Well, of course, there isn’t any, and that is because in the minds of pet-loving Americans, dogs rank higher in that hierarchy than do chickens.

Noem, however, like ranchers and farmers the world over, has a hierarchy too, and in that one, a dog, even a pet, ranks well beneath the livestock upon which the ranch depends for its survival. Unless the rancher is Meghan McCain. The daughter of the late senator tweeted:

“…something out of a horror movie”? Please. This is something out of Disney’s “Old Yeller.” But these days, Disney is too busy promoting transgender ideology to make substantive family films. McCain is, I suspect, more city-slicker than rancher. Regardless, she has applied the moral sensibilities of people (like me) for whom animals are pets to be coddled rather than the means by which they make a living.

McCain is either naïve or more than a little disingenuous. Perhaps they aren’t killing dogs on the McCain ranch, but unless they are running a petting zoo, the raising, breeding, sale, and death of animals, either by their hand or that of a slaughterhouse, is the very reason for the ranch’s existence. Perhaps the McCain ranch is a mere hobby and profitability isn’t important, but on a working farm or ranch, animals are “put down” with great regularity.

Let’s consider the snark of Larry Sabato. The Robert Kent Gooch professor of politics at the University of Virginia and essentially a Democrat operative tweeted the following to Noem:

If, indeed, this was the response of Sabato’s students, it is a poor reflection on him as their professor. Instead of teaching them to think critically, he is conditioning them to react in Pavlovian fashion to whatever stimuli he serves up.

He might have used this teaching moment as an opportunity to explain why farmers and ranchers can’t afford to let sentimentality factor into their thinking; or why, once a dog has killed and tasted the blood of livestock, it is practically impossible to break him of the habit or to prevent him from teaching other dogs to do the same; or how law, both foreign and domestic, traditionally takes a very dim view of such dogs, allowing them to be euthanized or even requiring it; or why the morality of people living in cities evolves differently than that of those living in rural areas; or how our feelings are not always the right guide to moral action; or — and I might have crashed this lecture — how it is that Sabato himself favors abortion and the mutilation of children but is outraged by the killing of a dog.

Any one of these would be worthy of an afternoon’s discussion and would have afforded more insight than Sabato’s banal Twitter commentary. But such is the state of political commentary — and universities — in America today.

Lest I give the wrong impression, I love dogs. Anyone who follows me on social media or listens to my podcast, “Ideas Have Consequences,” will be familiar with Ranger, my German shepherd. As I write, he lies sleeping at my feet and is my constant companion. But the fact that I love him (and animals generally) is not, as some would have it, a sign of my moral superiority to Noem or any other rancher. It is because I can afford to love an animal that serves no practical function other than my family’s enjoyment.

Ranger is instructive here. Why? Because while he is playful, loves children, and is remarkably tolerant of annoying little dogs, he is an armadillo-killing machine. Yes, it turns out Ranger has an animal hierarchy of his own, and on that list, the life of an armadillo doesn’t count for much. If he smells one, he will track it down and kill it quickly and violently.

Now, it just so happens that this isn’t particularly problematic because everybody with any sense hates armadillos. They are nasty, pestilence-carrying troglodytes. Their holes are a constant hazard, threatening to break my horses’ legs. (In case you’re wondering, I rank horses above armadillos.) Furthermore, my livelihood does not depend on the breeding and sale of armadillos. But if Ranger were a threat to the economy of this household or that of another, his life would be cheap.

A more important question is this: Where do human beings rank in the hierarchy? If this controversy is any indication, and it is, the answer is not encouraging. Cricket has garnered outrage while millions of unborn children have garnered, well, *crickets.*

The Great Urban-Rural Divide

This tempest in a teapot reveals not the typical red-state-blue-state divide, but an urban-rural divide. Noem was foolish to include the story. That said, it must be understood that she is the product of a state where some counties pay a bounty for every coyote (a canine) killed. To most city dwellers, this is inconceivable because they cannot imagine a scenario where their livelihood is threatened by them. There might be “wolves” on Wall Street, but there are no coyotes.

Having spent a lot of time on farms and ranches, I came to recognize that those who operate them are faced with a plethora of problems in which I, in my ignorance, might find their solutions drastic or insensitive when they’re actually the most sensible thing to do. I also know that my soft spot for animals is deemed more liability than asset in that world — and for good reason. Calls for Noem to relocate the dog or attempt to rehabilitate it are the sort of objections made by people who haven’t a clue what they are talking about.

There was a time when Americans instinctively understood this, and that is because, until 1920, the majority of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. As of 2020, only 14 percent of Americans still do. This goes far toward explaining not only the visceral reaction to Noem’s story but also the growing antipathy among urbanites for rural Americans as a whole. Implicit in the criticism of Noem is the idea that rural Americans, who are synonymous with MAGA, are backward in their moral reasoning. There is much I could say to this, but I’ll instead ask a question.

Let us suppose we reversed the situation in Noem’s book, and it was instead a story about a dog-killing chicken. Would people express outrage had she killed it and made it part of a combo meal? Outside of PETA types, I don’t think so. This is our unwitting hierarchy at work.

Novels like Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony, and George Orwell’s essay Shooting an Elephant were once required reading in our public schools. I know I was required to read them all. Better yet, generations of Americans who knew nothing of rural America were grounded in the Bible, where we find God’s law dictated that animals that did harm to people were to be put down — an often-painful reminder that human beings are, in the Lord’s hierarchy, intrinsically more valuable than animals.

But we no longer take our moral cues from literature, much less from biblical literature. It has been replaced by Drag Queen Story Hour.

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