A proposed state constitutional amendment that North Dakota citizens will vote on in November proposes tougher penalties for persons convicted of cruelty to dogs, cats and horses. The proposal, titled Measure 5, has the strong support of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
That part’s not newsworthy. But the fact that a number of groups considered to be animal welfare organizations have also come out against the measure is.
If approved, Measure 5 would make it a Class C felony for anyone who “maliciously and intentionally harms a living dog, cat or horse.” In addition, it would provide courts with additional sentencing options, such as restricting anyone convicted under the law from owning a dog, cat or horse for up to five years and requiring psychological counseling for animal abusers, according to news reports.
Interestingly, the measure would not apply to production agriculture, hunting and trapping activities of, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers, or to individuals engaged in lawful defense of life or property.
“On the surface it (the measure) seems pretty benign, like there isn’t a lot going on there. But when you look into the language and terminology, you see how vague it is,” said Jason Schmidt, chairman of the North Dakota Animal Stewards and a cattle rancher near Medina, about 150 miles due east of the capital city of Bismark (Of course, you know what North Dakotans call a 150-mile trip, don’t you? A store run).
The North Dakota Animal Stewards is a group that represents farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, pet owners and animal shelter workers. And they’re not the only group rising up against what is being characterized as a typical overreach promoted by the deep-pocketed strategists at HSUS.
According to the North Dakota Farmer’s Union, Measure 5 “applies to only heinous acts that rarely, if ever, occur in the state, yet is silent on the most common forms of mistreatment,” the group noted in a web post. “The proposed initiative doles out blanket punishments without clear definitions. The language is cleverly crafted [and] so much would be left to interpretation that even those [people] doing right by animals could be charged with a felony, forced to receive mandatory psychological testing and prohibited [from] owning animals.”
Passage of the ballot initiative would also impede the public’s abil ity to shape animal care laws, according to its opponents. North Dakota law prohibits any changes to the language of a successful ballot initiative for seven years after passage, unless overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature.
Warm, fuzzy, phony
Perhaps what’s most notable about the opposition to Measure 5 is that the resistance is coming from groups that normally might line up with HSUS to help pass anti-cruelty measures. But as the North Dakota Animal Stewards group noted, the measure that falls short on addressing bona fide mistreatment of animals—plus, it leaves too much open for interpretation.
“We definitely want to protect the animals,” Schmidt said. “We deal with them every day; they are our livelihood. We need animals to be healthy and safe, [but] we also need the people that care for those animals to be protected.”
Here’s an example of what he meant. Suppose a horse owner has an aging, sick animal. This measure would expose that owner to legal liability if the horse were euthanized without a veterinarian present.
Now, if you’ve ever had occasion to visit or spend time in North Dakota, you’d agree with the joke about a 150-mile run to the store. Veterinarians—heck, people—tend to be few and far between in the Flickertail State (that’s its nickname; look it up) and paying for hundreds of miles of travel so the vet can spend five minutes administering an injections makes no sense.
“We think that’s problematic,” Schmidt said. “[And] they talk about psychological testing. Who gets to decide that? Who gets to decide what the usual and customary practices in agriculture are as exemptions?”
The bottom line here is that, as it has done in several other states, HSUS has rolled out yet another attempt to cherry pick an animal welfare issue in a single state, wrapping a “let’s-treat-pets-humanely” measure in warm, fuzzy language and spending wads of cash to convince voters it’s all about what’s best for the animals. Then, after the measure passes, guess who’ll be first in line to initiate legal action against horse owners, ranchers and producers?
Schmidt said his group has a better idea.
“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,” he 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”
Take that and stick in your cappuccino, HSUS.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.