Everything I need to know I learn by watching dog owners 

Published 11:14 am Friday, May 3, 2024

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In 1964, the President of the United States did something that shocked the nation. He lifted one of his beloved pet beagles by its ears, causing it to yelp. TV cameras were rolling. Reporters were taking notes. Johnson took a lot of heat for that.

Fast forward 60 years to today.

The governor of South Dakota has bragged in her soon-to-be-released book that she shot and killed her bird-hunting dog because it failed to obey her. Governor Kristi Noem said she took the puppy on a bird hunting trip with some older dogs, hoping it would calm down and learn to hunt. Instead, the puppy chased pheasants, went after some family chickens, and then “whipped around to bite me.” In other words, it acted like a puppy.

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It isn’t too far for me to leap to a conclusion that over the last 60 years, we have moved from public outrage over a president lifting a dog up by its ears to a widespread so-what response to a governor executing a dog because it failed to obey.

Anyone who has an ounce of compassion and just a modicum of knowledge and experience with dogs would never expect a puppy to behave like a soldier of fortune on a bird-hunting expedition. Puppies are puppies. They do stupid stuff.

I’ve had a lot of dogs in my life. A few were puppies. Training dogs successfully requires patience and understanding.

To think that a governor, one of the highest and most coveted positions in the land, could execute a dog because it failed to please her, brag about it in a book published to make money for her, and walk away not only unscathed but surrounded by an army of apologists, is another moment of epiphany, even in today’s hide-bound society.

Right now, I have three dogs. Some of them think my commands are being given in a language for which they have no knowledge. One is a herding dog. He is fiercely loyal, a one-man dog if you will. He obeys–most of the time. The second is a big mutt who has lived a life longer than most of us will and has settled into the eat-and-sleep mode. The third is a bona fide “full-bred” coon hound. She has a little switch in her head that toggles between Robert DeNiro’s “Are you talking to me?” in Taxi Driver to Forrest Gump’s “To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!”

The governor’s wire-haired pointer “Cricket” was a puppy testing the boundaries in order to learn before she was shot to death in a gravel pit.

How you treat animals says everything about whether we are good human beings or bad human beings. It tells me whether you are capable of being firm but fair or whether you are, as a person, a mile wide and an inch deep.

I’ve met some governors in my life, including the often outrageous South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow (read “In The Spirit of Crazy Horse”), but I am glad to say I hope never to meet the governor of South Dakota. I would give her a training collar.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com.