Farmers Oppose Anti-Cruelty Ballot Measure in North Dakota
How would you answer this question?
Dismembering a live cat is a crime on the same level as:
B) assault and battery
If you answered littering, you are right in line with the laws in North and South Dakota, where animal abuse is only a misdemeanor. Unlike felonies, which can provide for prison time and other severe penalties, only light punishments — like fines — are available for misdemeanor violations.
There is a measure on the ballot in North Dakota for this election that would make certain kinds of animal abuse felony crimes, leaving South Dakota as the only state in the nation to treat cruelty like littering. But the measure is very narrow, and opposition to it is mounting.
North Dakota’s Measure 5 would give courts broader and harsher sentencing options when convicting someone of doing any of these things to a live cat, dog, or horse:
maliciously and intentionally burning, poisoning, crushing, suffocating, impaling, drowning, blinding, skinning, beating to death, dragging to death, exsanguinating, disemboweling, or dismembering.
In addition to more common criminal penalties, the measure would “give judges the additional option of requiring that animal abusers receive psychological counseling and prohibiting them from owning a dog, cat, or horse for up to five years.”
Supporting the measure is North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, an alliance of “animal shelters, veterinarians, pet rescues, animal control officers, and other citizens.” It started out strong, with polls showing majority support of 66% in October.
By covering only three species, Measure 5 carefully excludes the kinds of animals that are abused in factory farming, and even explicitly states that it “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 or property.” The NBC affiliate in Bismarck, North Dakota explains that the “measure would not apply to the agriculture industry, hunters or anglers.”
Nevertheless, the measure is facing strong opposition from a coalition of people who make their living abusing and killing animals, plus a local humane society. The coalition, called North Dakota Animal Stewards (NDAS), includes “the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Farmers Union, North Dakota Lamb & Wool Producers Association, North Dakota Pork Council, North Dakota Deer Ranchers Association, Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead (four other local humane societies support Measure 5), North Dakota Elk Growers, the Milk Producers Association of North Dakota and other animal stakeholders.”
NDAS’s primary argument is spelled out in big letters at the top of its website: “North Dakotans should write North Dakota laws, not outside special interest groups.” (The boldface and underlining came from NDAS.)
NDAS’s concern is that the Humane Society of the United States, a nationwide organization, might somehow use Measure 5 as a foot in the door in North Dakota, a launching pad for broader anti-cruelty laws that could affect the agribusiness and hunting industries the coalition represents. A publication called The National Hog Farmer agrees: ”Measure 5 is poorly worded by design to give animal rights groups, such as [HSUS], a foothold in North Dakota to make more sweeping changes later,” according to its blog, which cites an NDAS press release and warns that HSUS made “similar efforts” in Missouri and California.
“Missouri Farmers Care chose to assist the North Dakota Animal Stewards in their fight against HSUS and Measure 5 because we have been repeatedly targeted by HSUS ballot initiatives and we strongly believe that the agricultural community must begin working together to defend ourselves,” according to an email that appears to have come from a Missouri agribusiness coalition. The email was quoted by the Drovers Cattle Network: America’s Beef Business Source. The Missouri farmers may have been referring to HSUS ballot initiatives in some states to phase out intensive confinement systems like gestation crates for pregnant pigs and battery cages for chickens.
NDAS claims that it also opposes Measure 5 because it wouldn’t do enough to protect animals, asserting on its website that “Measure 5 won’t improve animal treatment in North Dakota.” But even if opponents think it won’t help enough, it will help some, so that hardly seems like a reason to oppose the measure. It is a reason to write a stronger ballot measure for the next election, or even for the legislature to enact anti-cruelty laws, which it has so far failed to do. If Measure 5 wins, it will not make it harder to strengthen animal cruelty laws even further.
UPDATE: North Dakotans rejected Measure 5. They voted 65% to 34% against making any form of animal cruelty a felony, leaving all such acts punishable only by weak misdemeanor penalties.
Photo credit: Dorling Kindersley RF