Yes, I’m going there: My thoughts on Kristi Noem killing her dog Cricket

By Julie Castle

In the early days of Best Friends, before we helped bring a no-kill mindset to local animal services, we were over a barrel with people who wanted to get rid of a dog. The phone calls went something like this: “I really love my dog, but if you don’t take him, I’m going to take it out back and shoot it.” Of course, we accepted the dog — who invariably turned out to be an undersocialized adolescent who had been mostly raised by the family’s kids and behaved accordingly. Nothing that a little TLC couldn’t cure. The good old days!

So, when South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem proudly proclaimed she shot her adolescent dog Cricket because of unruly behavior, I flashed back to hearing similar stories from our founders who shared about some of the public enacting the same fate upon their dogs.

Thing is, back in 1984, no-kill options were few and far between while an estimated 17 million dogs and cats were being killed in America’s shelters. Then, as well as today, Cricket’s problem behavior as described in Gov. Noem’s book was understood to be the result of human error in both rearing and managing known behaviors. She failed her dog long before she shot her.

As I said, that mentality was common in 1984 when a lack of options in lieu of knowledgeable training would often mean facing the stress of leaving a dog at a shelter where the dog would very likely be killed. So, someone shooting their dog in rural America because the dog was killing chickens was not a story in 1984.

Today, however, it’s a national scandal — and in my opinion, rightfully so. The world has changed, and that’s a good thing. Not only were there likely no-kill options available for Cricket, but a cornerstone of the no-kill philosophy is the intrinsic value of an individual animal’s life and the human obligation to do right by them. That clearly doesn’t include shooting them nor tolerating shelter systems that sanitize the killing. The work of Best Friends and our partner organizations has been to elevate the value of our animal friends — not just amongst the general public, as public sentiment has always been ahead of the curve on this, but in public policy that shapes and funds municipal sheltering and animal services.

That is where we are seeing the greatest change. There is no longer even a debate on whether killing a dog or cat is right or wrong. We see governors and local leaders on both sides of the aisle reflecting the will of their constituents and leaning in on no-kill policy. Take Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s no-kill declaration for the state or California Gov. Gavin Newsom earmarking $5 million to fund no-kill in his state. Ending killing in shelters is a nonpartisan issue that crosses all social, political, and economic lines. Establishing no-kill as public policy saves lives.

Still, there is much work to be done. In 2023, the number of dogs killed in U.S. shelters increased by nearly 30% compared to the year prior. But here’s the thing: Ending the killing of pets in our nation’s shelters is a completely solvable issue. Roughly 7 million homes in America are planning to add a pet to their family this year. If just 6% more people chose to adopt their pets instead of purchasing, we could get our country to no-kill.

People from all over the country are outraged about Gov. Noem killing her family dog Cricket — as they should be — because there’s no reason to end the life of a pet who could otherwise be saved. It’s our duty as animal lovers, as human beings, to protect these animals and see through our commitments to them. That is what every worker in every animal shelter is trying to do. Unlike Gov. Noem, shelter workers are not blasé when a pet in their care is killed. They work tirelessly to ensure that the pets in their care make it out alive. But as we know, they cannot do it alone. We need broad community support to save these lives. And while the lives lost in animal shelters are a far cry from the fate that Gov. Noem forced on Cricket, they are similar in one simple way: They did not and do not have to die.

As a matter of note, today 11 of the 19 animal shelters in South Dakota are no-kill. Imagine the message that Gov. Noem would have sent if she had worked through Cricket’s issues or at least ensured a positive outcome for her pet. That would be an example of actual leadership. You can’t just take all your problems out back and shoot them.


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No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society