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When man’s best friend becomes a politician’s worst nightmare

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An adorable dog can soften a politician’s image, create viral social media moments and help voters identify with an office-seeker vying for their vote.

But take a misstep when it comes to the family pooch and prepare to face the wrath of dog lovers everywhere.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem became the latest politician to face dog-related backlash after she admitted in her upcoming book that, 20 years ago, she shot and killed her 14-month-old dog, Cricket. According to The Guardian, Noem writes that she “hated” the “aggressive” dog, who she says ruined a pheasant hunt and attacked her neighbor’s chickens.

The story created a firestorm on social media over the weekend and dog lovers from both sides of the aisle condemned her decision to kill her dog. Noem, who has been floated as a possible contender to be former President Donald Trump’s running mate, still stands by her decision from 20 years ago.

Noem isn’t the first politician to spark anger among critics from treatment of a dog over the years. Here’s a look at politicians who have been condemned for their behavior toward their pet pups.

Joe Biden

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden look at their new dog, Commander, after a Christmas event in the White House on Dec. 25, 2021.

President Joe Biden faced fierce criticism after two of the first family’s German shepherds were involved in several biting incidents.

Last year it was reported that Biden’s 2-year-old German shepherd Commander was involved in 11 biting incidents with White House staff and the Secret Service. In February, CNN reported that Commander was involved in 24 biting incidents with Secret Service personnel. Commander was removed from the White House campus in October.

Three years ago, Major, also a German shepherd, was sent to live with friends of the family after his own biting incidents.

The incident spurred action from Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who sent a letter to Biden and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su in October seeking to examine workplace safety conditions at the White House.

Foxx told POLITICO that she wrote the letter to remind the White House that it is “not immune to the laws of the land.”

“The President and First Lady care deeply about the safety of those who work at the White House and those who protect them every day,” Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director, told POLITICO in October. “They remain grateful for the patience and support of the U.S. Secret Service and all involved, as they continue to work through solutions.”

Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds his new dog Captain — a Siberian-shepherd mix — during a conference of mayors in Albany, New York, on Feb. 12, 2018.

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned and moved out of the governor’s mansion nearly three years ago, the Albany newspaper Times Union reported that he wasn’t trying to take his dog, Captain, with him.

Cuomo reportedly asked mansion staff members if anyone would be interested in caring for Captain, a 4-year-old mix of shepherd, Siberian and malamute, who had nipped a few people since Cuomo adopted him in 2018, according to the report.

Democrats and Republicans called out Cuomo on social media for seemingly leaving his pup behind.

“Not only the Worst Governor in America. The Worst Dog Owner in America.” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) wrote in a post. “You can tell people’s character by how they treat their animals.”

“I’ll take the puppy,” Ron Kim, a New York State Democratic assemblymember, wrote on what was then called Twitter.

Cuomo refuted the dog desertion claims, saying on social media that “Some people just can't get the facts straight.”

“Yes, I was downstate monitoring storm response for a few days, but Captain and I are a man and his dog,” Cuomo wrote in the post. “He is part of our family and that’s the way it will always be.”

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) caught heat three years ago after a journalist posted a photo of his family’s white, fluffy dog Snowflake looking out the window of the senator’s dark house while Cruz and his family traveled to Cancun during a statewide emergency.

The photo of the seemingly sidelined poodle immediately added to the backlash Cruz was already facing for flying his family out of the country during a storm that left millions of Texans without power.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a jab at Cruz on X after the photo began to circulate, saying, “Don’t vote for anyone you wouldn’t trust with your dog.”

Cruz denied that Snowflake had been left to fend for itself, saying that the dog had a sitter “and actually the heat and power was back on.”

“I spend too much time on Twitter, so I see apparently I’ve literally fed Snowflake to the wolves,” Cruz said at the time.

Pam Bondi

Pam Bondi sits with Noah, her adopted St. Bernard dog that was rescued from a shelter after Hurricane Katrina, on July 25, 2006, at her home in Tampa, Florida.

Before Pam Bondi was elected as Florida’s attorney general in 2010, she was involved in a custody battle with Hurricane Katrina victims over a St. Bernard.

Bondi adopted the dog in 2005 after he was separated from his family during Hurricane Katrina. But a Louisiana family had been trying to find their dog, originally named Master Tank but renamed by Bondi to Noah, and located his whereabouts in 2006.

Bondi refused to return him and accused the family of neglect because the dog had been facing longer-term problems like heartworms. The family said the dog had heartworms since he was 10 months old, according to St. Petersburg Times.

The family sued, and the dispute lasted 16 months as it played out on CNN and Fox News. Both sides settled the case just before it went to trial and Bondi returned the dog to the family with food and medication.

Mitt Romney

Sen. Mitt Romney speaks with reporters in his office on Capitol Hill Sept. 13, 2023.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is still reminded of an incident that involved his Irish Setter Seamus despite it happening decades ago.

The story first surfaced in 2007 when The Boston Globe reported that in 1983, a 36-year-old Romney put the family dog in a crate on the roof of his car because there was no room in the station wagon during a 12-hour car ride from Massachusetts to Canada. The dog eventually got sick and Romney stopped at a gas station to wash the dog. Romney put Seamus back in the carrier, returned it to the top of the car and proceeded with the rest of the trip.

Romney later defended the decision, stating Seamus was in an “airtight” kennel and that the dog climbed on top of the car regularly.

The story garnered immediate condemnation from many politicians but especially became a favorite stick to whack Romney with when he ran for president.

During the 2012 presidential race, Republican rival Rick Santorum said that voters need to consider if Romney is the “kind of person you want to be president of the United States.” Also that year, fellow rival Newt Gingrich came out with an ad attacking Romney for the story. Former President Barack Obama also mocked Romney for the incident.

The saga even played out on the March 2012 cover of The New Yorker, which featured Romney driving a car with Santorum sticking his neck out of a doghouse that is tied to the roof of the vehicle.

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