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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

On shooting the pooch

Gov. Noem has published an account of shooting her dog Cricket because he, among other things, enjoyed chicken dinners, but did not obtain them from Col. Sanders.  He got them from neighboring farms in their live state and processed them himself.  When it came to chicken coops, Cricket was foxy.  But Gov. Noem chose, rather than train and restrain her errant mutt, to take him out to a gravel pit where she served the role of executioner. She shot him, and bragged about it in the book she wrote.  While she was at it, she also shot a goat that apparently displeased her. 

Her explanations claimed her shootings were a matter of protecting her family and public safety.  However, her actions were widely condemned by people in both political parties.  When it comes to killing a family pet, there is much consternation among the public.

I recall one occasion in my family when an uncle shot the family dog.  I was staying on their farm with my cousins  when we children were summoned to come in the house.  They had a dog named Lucky.  We were told that Lucky's luck had run out, and he was showing the symptoms of rabies.  We were to stay in the house until my uncle and the hired man resolved the situation,  Their first effort was to try to catch Lucky and take him to the veterinarian, but the vet said if the dog was showing signs of aggressive behavior, there was nothing he could do to help the dog, as the disease had progressed beyond the point at which there was any treatment available.  The dog was shot and wrapped in a tarpaulin.  Then everybody was equipped with buckets or pressure  sprayers and we disinfected the places the dog had been during his last moments of life.  The dog's body was hauled to a vet's laboratory where it was confirmed that the dog had rabies and then incinerated.  Lucky had been a constant companion with my cousins, and they never had another dog again.  The loss of Lucky was too painful for them, and they didn't want to hazard such a loss again.

My family had a dog for years.  They got her when my brother was two, so Fluffy was two years older than me.  She was a mixed breed that included Chow and some shepherd breed.  She helped raise me.  When I was an infant, my mother would put me in a baby buggy in the back yard to get some fresh air, and Fluffy would lie under the buggy to guard it.  When I became old enough to  toddle around,  Fluffy, much to my annoyance, would herd me away from the busy street that ran past our front yard.  She was my guardian.  I think of her in this context because of the way she ended her life.

On a brisk autumn day when I was 14, I was playing  catch with some friends using a baseball size rubber ball.  Fluffy was with me, and would retrieve the ball when we failed to catch it.   Then we had to catch Fluffy to get the ball back.  We had much fun with Fluffy as our play became a game of keep-away from her.  She was 16, and playing like a puppy. Our game ended as supper time approached and we went to our homes.  After supper, we realized Fluffy was not home, and we called for her, but she didn't show up. We weren't too concerned because she was part of the neighborhood and some neighbors would let her in their houses to be petted.  At bed time she hadn't returned, but we had an enclosed back porch where we put food and water for her.  We were confident that she was visiting a neighbor and could eventually seek the shelter of the porch and the warmth of an old rag rug we keep there for her.  Her regular bed was in the basement next to the furnace.

The next morning, my mother got a telephone call from a neighbor across the street,  The woman said they found Fluffy on their front porch and she didn't seem able to get to her feet.  I carried her home, and we put her in the car and headed to the vet.  We were puzzled that she could have shown so much life the day before, but seemed so ill.  The vet explained that her age was a factor.  She went to the neighbor's porch to rest but was further stressed by the cold night coming on, and it triggered many problems of canine old age, including arthritis, failing kidneys, and other internal malfunctions.  He said he could keep her at the animal hospital and treat her as much as was possible to see if she recovered, but she was so old and fragile that she might need to be put down to spare further suffering.  She didn't improve and showed signs of pain, so we ended up at the vet clinic to say our goodbyes to Fluffy, and she was put quietly to sleep.

Then there was Seth.  My grandmother lived on a farm with two bachelor uncles.  Seth was mostly German Shepherd, and was unusually intelligent.  When my uncles needed to go in and out of fields containing livestock,  they would say, "Seth, watch the gate," and he would position himself by the open gate and keep the livestock in until my uncles closed it.  This might be for hours.  

Seth also was a  helpmate for my grandmother, who suffered from rheumatism. The farm at that time did not have water running to the house.  The well was located outside the fenced-in yard.  When my grandmother open the  storm door to go get water, a door-closer which held the door tightly shut made a snapping sound, at which Seth would come running.  He would open the fence gate for my grandmother as she passed through it.  He was the master gate keeper on the farm.

His death was brutal.  The neighborhood thrashing gang was on the farm harvesting oats.  There were five teams of horses hauling oat bundles in from the field to the thrashing machine, and they were lined up to be unloaded into the machine.  One team was composed of a pair of broncos, and Seth was lying in the shade of the wagon they were pulling as the men pitched the oat bundles into the thrasher.  Something spooked them and they suddenly bolted.  The men were sent sprawling, and the rear wagon wheel ran over Seth.  He yelped, ran to the house, and sought refuge under the porch, where he died of internal injuries.  My uncles never replaced him, and my grandmother came to my parents' house in town to live.  She often talked about how much she missed Seth.

There can be another side to farm dogs.  While I was farm editor for a newspaper, there was a rash of sheep killings in one of the rural neighborhoods.  Farmers speculated about wolves, coyotes, and cougars,  all of which were very rare in that part of the country.  One morning I received a call from the county conservation officer, who was a distant relative,  that there had been a mass killing of sheep.  A photographer and I went to the scene.  Because of prior killings, there were many experts in the area looking into them.    In this case, about 80 sheep were killed.  A large group of investigators were already on the scene when we got there--the sheriff's department, game conservation officers, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, and agricultural officials.

They determined that dogs in the area were forming packs at night and going feral.  They found witnesses who had seen the packs and after inspecting some suspected dogs found evidence that they were the culprits.   One dog in particular was the instigator and leader of the pack.  The farmer who owned the sheep filed a law suit and the lawyers worked  out a settlement in private, so we had scant information about how the matter was resolved.  However, the incident was reported throughout the nation, and legislatures passed and revised laws on the predation of domestic animals by dogs that have gone feral.  South Dakota law makes it legal to shoot a predatory dog.

So, Kristi Noem was within the law.  But she was far outside the propriety expected of a government leader.  The question:  Is someone who goes around shooting dogs and goats capable of running a democratic state?  No one has ever accused Kristi Noem of being overburdened with intellect.  But the fact that she was elected governor falls on the people who elected her governor.  The contention that South Dakota comes up a bit short in the intellect department is grounded in demonstrable fact.  South Dakota got that reputation the old-fashioned way.  It earned it.  And Kristi is its emblem.





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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States