North Dakota is one of the only two states left with no felony cruelty laws in place and has been consistently ranked as one of the worst five states in the nation for animal protection by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
No matter how horrific the cruelty is, abusers only face misdemeanor charges. Now, two groups are fighting to change the laws in the state with competing proposals – one with a ballot initiative and the other with plans that will go before legislators next year.
North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, a coalition of animal shelters, veterinarians, pet rescues, animal control officers, animal welfare groups, and citizens, is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would make it a Class C felony for a first offense to engage in malicious and intentional cruelty to dogs, cats, or horses, which would include “poisoning, crushing, suffocating, impaling, drowning, blinding, skinning, bludgeoning or dragging to death, exsanguinating, disemboweling or dismembering.”
Violators could also have to undergo mandatory psychological or psychiatric evaluations and counseling at the discretion of the court and would be prevented from owning animals for five years.
North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care, which is supported by farm groups, veterinarians, animal shelters and the Dakota Zoo, as well as the state Agriculture Department and Board of Animal Health, is offering an alternative plan it believes is more comprehensive than the ballot initiative.
“As veterinarians, we work to provide care every day for both small and large animals,” said Dr. Del Rae Martin, past president of the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association. “The North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association feels the draft legislation offers a better solution than the proposed ballot initiative, which is narrowly focused, limited to three species, and fails to address the most common forms of animal mistreatment in our state.”
Their proposal covers both pets and livestock and addresses cruelty, abandonment and neglect and would also provide various penalties, including felony charges, for abuse depending on the severity. Among other provisions, it would also allow veterinarians and law enforcement officials to seize animals if they suspect abuse and allow them to take custody of abandoned animals.
Even with legislation on the table, some animal advocates worry it won’t make a difference.
“The legislature has failed for years to address our weak animal cruelty laws, and last year refused to even study the issue. There are no guarantees that the politicians in Bismarck will pass any bill, so we are going forward with our much-needed ballot measure and giving the people of North Dakota the opportunity to decide,” said Karen Thunshelle, campaign manager for North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty.
The group needs to get 13,452 signatures by August 8 to put their proposal on the ballot in November.
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