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Ag, farm, animal groups propose animal laws

FARGO -- North Dakota's laws prohibiting animal cruelty are so weak that prosecutors seldom can take action, animal protection advocates have long complained.

After a new proposal announced Thursday, two separate coalitions are championing competing proposals to better protect animals -- one that could go before voters in November and one that will go to legislators next year.

A broad coalition involving farm groups, veterinary medicine and animal shelters said Thursday that the proposed legislation would protect all animals -- pets as well as livestock -- and provide stiffer criminal penalties for mistreatment of animals.

"Existing law carries very few consequences for those mistreating animals," said Nukhet Hendricks, executive director of the Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead.

Members of the group, which calls itself North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care, say their proposed legislation offers a more comprehensive solution.

The group's draft bill addresses animal abandonment, neglect and cruelty, with what its members describe as "appropriate exceptions" to clarify the law's intent.

Those include "humane destruction of an animal for just cause," "commonly accepted" agricultural and livestock practices, rodeo and racetrack activities, livestock exhibitions or competitions, as well as lawful fishing, hunting and trapping.

"It offers a more comprehensive response than the proposed ballot initiative," said Doug Gehring, North Dakota agriculture commissioner and one of the draft legislation's supporters.

The legislative proposal has the backing of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, North Dakota State Board of Animal Health, North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, North Dakota Stockmen's Association, North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Farmers Union, Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead, Central Dakota Humane Society, Mandan and Dakota Zoo, Bismarck.

Those pushing the legislation said passage of the more limited ballot initiative, which targets extreme animal cruelty and protects only dogs, cats and horses, would make it difficult or impossible to enact the law.

The North Dakota Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to amend a statute that has been approved by voters for seven years after the law's passage.

The rival group, North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, is circulating petitions to place an initiative on the November ballot targeting "aggravated animal cruelty" to prevent "extreme cruelty" to dogs, cats and horses.

The initiative defines aggravated animal cruelty, punishable as a class C felony, as "Any individual who maliciously and intentionally burns, poisons, crushes, suffocates, impales, drowns, blinds, skins, beats to death, drags to death, exsanguinates (blood-letting), disembowels, or dismembers any living dog, cat or horse."

"The Legislature has failed for years to address our weak animal cruelty laws, and last year refused to even study the issue," said Karen Thunshelle of Minot, campaign manager for North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, the group pushing the initiative.