Killing Dogs: What Kristi Noem and PETA Have in Common

By Alex Berezow, PhD — Apr 29, 2024
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals criticized the South Dakota governor for shooting a farm dog. But PETA has killed far more.
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Americans love dogs. We love them so much that we treat them like human babies. So, if you’re running for president or vice president, you would be well-advised to avoid telling stories bragging about how you killed one. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who appears to have higher political ambitions, apparently will learn this lesson the hard way.

Remember Seamus? That was Mitt Romney’s dog. The former Massachusetts governor and now senator stirred controversy when the Boston Globe revealed in 2004 that the Romneys put Seamus inside a crate strapped to the top of the car for a 12-hour road trip. Though it was meant to highlight Romney’s crisis management capabilities, the story was not well received, and it ended up haunting him when he ran for president in 2008 and 2012.

Animal farm

Compared to Kristi Noem’s dog, Seamus was treated like royalty. As reported in The Guardian, Noem describes in her upcoming book how she is willing “to do anything ‘difficult, messy, and ugly’ if it simply needs to be done.” Given her extensive experience in politics, there were probably many different stories she could have chosen to illustrate her toughness — but she went with shooting her dog. It’s a bold strategy.

According to Noem, Cricket was supposed to be a hunting dog but was untrainable. Worse, the same day as the failed hunt, Cricket killed several of a local family’s chickens, and the distraught family had to be compensated. Noem’s verdict was swift: Cricket got the death penalty. While she was at it, she grabbed a “nasty and mean” goat that liked to knock down her children and executed it, too.

To be fair to Noem, her story is hardly uncommon for people who grew up on a farm. Farmers have a very different relationship with animals than the rest of us. While we treat animals like tiny, furry children, farmers take a much more practical approach: Animals are either useful or a nuisance. That’s why farmers and ranchers routinely kill bears, coyotes, and wolves, all of which pose serious threats to livestock.

The problem, then, is not that her story is uniquely cruel or unusual; it’s that the average American has no idea what life on a farm is really like. So, to the general public, Noem’s tale sounds really weird and awful. PETA is likely correct when it predicts that Americans will think her a “psychotic loony.”

PETA kills dogs, too

However, it’s difficult to take PETA seriously, especially given its track record. Several years ago in Virginia, PETA seized a 9-year-old’s unattended pet chihuahua and killed it. The family sued and settled for $49,000.

This was hardly a one-off incident. While PETA doesn’t routinely kidnap chihuahuas, it has euthanized tens of thousands of animals. According to the Associated Press, PETA euthanizes animals that it “deems too sick, aggressive, or feral for adoption.”

But isn’t that exactly what Kristi Noem did? The dog aggressively attacked and killed other animals, and the goat attacked her children. Sure, she used a gun instead of a lethal injection, but there seems to be little distinction between Noem’s actions and PETA’s actions. The only difference is that Noem oddly thought it would make an amusing story, whereas PETA feigns outrage because it understands the American psyche.

PETA’s self-defeating ethics

The problem with PETA extends far beyond its hypocritical stance on euthanasia (which, by the way, it offers for free). It endorses views that are self-contradictory and, ultimately, self-defeating.

For instance, PETA promotes vegetarianism and has long supported research to produce lab-grown meat, which doesn’t involve the slaughter of animals. In 2014, it praised Bill Gates for helping to fund Impossible Foods, which makes veggie burgers that taste like meat. But then, in 2018, PETA did an about-face and falsely claimed that Impossible Foods’ burgers, which rely on genetically engineered ingredients, could cause cancer. The only plausible explanation is that PETA also happens to be ideologically opposed to genetic engineering, even if it reduces animal suffering.

Most egregiously, PETA is also opposed to animal research that is conducted for the benefit of human health. Humans are animals, too, but PETA shows little concern for them. The organization’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, once said, “Even if animal experiments did result in a cure for AIDS, of which there is no chance, I’d be against it on moral grounds.” (It is worth noting that, thanks to animal research, antiretroviral therapy allows many people with HIV to lead fairly normal lives. A cure is likely imminent.)

Yet, instead of thanking scientists, PETA’s disinformation and extremist rhetoric regarding animal research is partially responsible for the increase in death threats aimed at them. Courts have intervened to prevent PETA from accessing the names of researchers, as the organization encourages its followers to intimidate and harass scientists. This is a curious strategy for an organization supposedly built on its superior ethics.


Alex Berezow, PhD

Former Vice President of Scientific Communications

Dr. Alex Berezow is a PhD microbiologist, science writer, and public speaker who specializes in the debunking of junk science for the American Council on Science and Health. He is also a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and a featured speaker for The Insight Bureau. Formerly, he was the founding editor of RealClearScience.

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