MANDAN, N.D. – A proposed state constitutional measure to come before North Dakota voters in November pertaining to stiffer laws for animal cruelty to dogs, cats and horses has raised the ire of North Dakota Animal Stewards, a group that represents farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, pet owners and animal shelter workers.
Measure 5 would make it a Class C felony for an individual who maliciously and intentionally harmed a living dog, cat or horse. In addition, it would provide the court with other sentencing options. Among those would be restricting a person from owning a dog, cat or horse for up to five years and requiring psychological counseling for animal abusers.
Measure 5 would not apply to production agriculture, or to lawful activities of hunters and trappers, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers, or to individuals engaged in lawful defense of life of property.
“On the surface it (the measure) seems pretty benign, it seems like there isn’t a lot going on there,’’ said Jason Schmidt, chairman of the N.D. Animal Stewards and a rancher near Medina, N.D. “But when you look into the language and terminology, you see how vague it is.”
And therein lies the concern for the N.D. Animal Stewards. A measure that falls short on clearly addressing mistreatment of animals and leaves too much for interpretation.
N.D. Animal Stewards held two meetings in the state to present their stance against Measure 5. About 85 attended the gathering in Mandan on Sept. 24. A meeting was held in Cando the following day.
“We definitely want to protect the animals,’’ said Schmidt. “We deal with them everyday, they are our livelihood. We need the animals to be healthy and safe, we also need the people that care for those animals to be protected.”
Schmidt said an open forum is the right way to address this issue.
“Deal with it at the legislature where everybody has a chance to get in on the language and talk about it,’’ he said.
Schmidt said several issues within the measure’s language are a source of concern.
“There is a question (regarding) euthanizing a horse without a veterinarian present,’’ Schmidt said. “We think that’s problematic.” They talk about physchological testing. Who gets to decide that? Who gets to decide what the usual and customary practices in agriculture are as exemptions?”
N.D. Animal Stewards points out that one of the measures biggest supporters is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Schmidt said their involvement has included helping to write the measure’s language. It’s clear its not just a North Dakota-generated issue. HSUS, which is not affiliated with local humane society chapters, he said, has done similar things in other states.
“Let’s sit down with our local vets, with our local shelters, with all of our ag professionals and all the animal groups in the state that actually live and breathe and deal with the animals,’’ Schmidt said. “Our veterinarians are a big part of this and we want them at the table. But we want to write the laws by North Dakotans for North Dakotans.”
Dan Kleinsorge, of Missouri Farmers Care, who attended the recent meetings held by the N.D. Animal Stewards, added his concerns for the proposed measure and HSUS involvement.
“They do this all across the country and they like to cherry pick states and go here and there and hope the states don’t communicate,’’ Kleinsorge said of HSUS. “They count on that for victory.”
Kleinsorge said in his home state of Missouri legislation pushed by HSUS created concern for the agriculture community there. Proposition B, as it was called, pertained to puppies and dog breeders and a 50-dog cap. However, the way the legislation was written it said restrictions on domesticated animals living in or near one’s house. Would this be a prelude to a limit on other animals, including cows and pigs.
Kleinsorge said residents here should be nervous about horses being in the same category as a dog or cat in Measure 5. He believes there is quite a difference between horses and dogs and cats.
And then what is next? What is stopping someone from coming back in the future and proposing another ballot that includes cows or pigs. There are some really unclear definitions in here.
“It’s just sloppy legislation, frankly’’ he said.
Karen Thunshelle, chairperson for North Dakota to Stop Animal Cruelty, the coalition that sponsored Measure 5, said drafting felony laws against those who torture and mistreat animals has been introduced in the legislature time and time again. In fact, during the past three legislative sessions, but has not garnered enough support of lawmakers to pass into law.
That’s why steps were made by North Dakota to Stop Animal Cruelty volunteers and supporters to collect over 25,000 residents signatures to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Thunshelle says its critical to get something on the books now that protects dogs, cats and horses. North Dakota is one of only two states that punishes even the most extreme forms of animal cruelty as a misdemeanor.
Thunshelle said the reason horses were included in the language was because 80 percent of the animals are raised and kept as companions. They need to receive that protection.
The organization represents animal shelters, veterinarians, pet rescues, animal control officers, and other citizens working for an animal cruelty law that reflects North Dakota values.
Thunshelle said the proposed measure was carefully written with input from the state veterinarian. It shouldn’t be a concern to farmers or ranchers. This measure’s scope is specifically targeting felonious acts against dogs, cats and horses. Exemptions were worded for agriculture and hunting practices.
She is disappointed that organizations in opposition of Measure 5 are putting false messaging out there to undermine its intent.
While Measure 5 has received support of the HSUS, Thunshelle points out there are other supporters of this campaign, both locally and nationally.
She said its likely those opposed of the measure have also received their share of out-of-state supporters.
If approved by voters, the measure would take effect 30 days following the election, according to the state constitution.
Any amendments or changes to the initiative once passed, would require a two-thirds majority vote in the state legislature.