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Poll: Majority favors ND animal cruelty law

GRAND FORKS -- Despite opposition by a coalition of groups that say the North Dakota Legislature should take the lead in toughening state laws against animal cruelty, a clear majority of voters appear to favor an initiated measure that would make malicious abuse of dogs, cats and horses a felony.

In the statewide poll of likely voters conducted Oct. 12 to Oct. 15 for Forum Communications, 55 percent said they supported Measure 5 while 39 percent said they were opposed. Six percent were undecided.

The measure would make it a Class C felony to maliciously harm a dog, cat or horse. It would not apply to production agriculture or to lawful activities of hunters and trappers, licensed veterinarians or scientific researchers, or to people acting in defense of life or property.

Despite those restrictions, some opponents have warned that the measure would be "a foot in the door" for animal rights activists and lead to more restrictive actions that could hurt farmers, ranchers and hunters, a claim that the measure's supporters dispute.

Other opponents, who have mounted a letter-writing campaign and urged a "no" vote through TV advertising, formed a coalition earlier this year to urge that the issue be left to the 2013 Legislature. That group, including farm and ranch organizations, veterinarians and some state animal shelters, has drafted legislation it calls "a more comprehensive response" to the problem of animal cruelty than the initiated measure provides.

Backers of the ballot measure note, however, that repeated efforts to increase North Dakota's animal cruelty laws have been rebuffed by the Legislature.

North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states with no felony penalties for severe cases of animal cruelty.

In the statewide telephone survey of 500 likely voters by Essman Research of Des Moines, Iowa, Democrats were overwhelmingly for the initiated measure, 68 percent to 25 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Independents favored the measure by 54 percent to 41 percent.

Republicans also supported the measure, but by a slim margin: 49 percent to 47 percent.

The animal cruelty measure was favored in Grand Forks County by 64 percent of likely voters in the poll and by 54 percent in Cass County and Ward County. It also received majority support in Stark, Stutsman and Williams counties, though a small sampling size in each of those made the results unreliable.

Only in Burleigh County, including Bismarck, did the poll find a majority for rejecting the initiated measure, 51 percent to 47 percent.

The statewide poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, according to Essman Research.