North Dakota voters defeated by a wide margin a one-page measure in November that would have made the worst cases of cruelty to dogs, cats and horses a felony. Opponents indicated the state’s laws needed strengthening but disagreed with the initiative’s way of solving the problem. Now, state lawmakers will consider a nine-page bill that would overhaul the state’s animal welfare laws.
The defeated Measure 5 on the November ballot would have made acts of “aggravated animal cruelty” against a cat, dog or horse a felony, punishable by up to five years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
Senate Bill 2211, sponsored by Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, would make numerous instances of animal mistreatment, including animal abuse and animal abandonment, a misdemeanor for a first offense and a felony for a second or subsequent offense within five years. The measure would make animal cruelty a felony.
The bill also includes a process for seizing animals and dealing with abandoned animals. Under SB2211, leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle without ensuring its safety would be an infraction.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the bill at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Unlike the failed initiative, SB2211 would cover all animals. But it also spells out specific exceptions, including “usual and customary” practices in production agriculture, animal shows, rodeos and other practices.
Flakoll said he approached the group North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care to offer his services in sponsoring legislation the group wanted about animal care. As a longtime Agriculture Committee chairman and a faculty member in North Dakota State University’s agriculture department, he felt he would be right for the job.
“I just thought that this is a situation where you have to pull a lot of people together, which is something I enjoy doing,” he said.
North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care includes members of the state Department of Agriculture and Board of Animal Health, livestock and agriculture industry groups, animal shelters and a zoo. The group had been working together for several years but didn’t meet regularly until the past year.
Deputy state veterinarian Beth Carlson said the group’s diversity meant not everyone agreed on everything as they looked at ways to revamp the state’s animal welfare laws, which haven’t been changed in years. But they worked together to create the legislation “that should actually make a difference for the care of animals in North Dakota,” she said.
“People who care about animals should support this bill,” Carlson said.
Increasing the penalties for animal cruelty has been suggested before to the Legislature, but those efforts, like Measure 5, failed to gain support. Carlson and Flakoll believe SB2211 will be more popular because of its comprehensive approach, as well as its broad support across the spectrum of people within the state who take care of animals.
Flakoll said Measure 5, which he voted against, would have covered only extreme cases of animal cruelty — cases that pull at the heartstrings but are not very common. SB2211 takes those cases into consideration but also revamps penalties for more common cases, such as neglect and abandonment.
North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, which supported Measure 5, released a statement in December that said the group supports the intent of Flakoll’s bill.