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Animal cruelty bill sent to governor's desk

BISMARCK -- A 80-12 House vote Wednesday morning sent Gov. Jack Dalrymple a bill that would create harsher penalties against people who willfully neglect, abuse, abandon or are otherwise cruel to animals.

The legislation, Senate Bill 2211, cleared the Senate on Tuesday by a 43-3 vote.

The bill creates four distinct definitions for each possible offense, with penalties increasing as the offense becomes more severe.

The only concern voiced Wednesday was over the bill's requirement that an animal owner provide necessary medical attention. Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, said pet owners make the decision whether their animal should have a major surgery based on factors such as the animal's age and cost of the procedure, and shouldn't be subject to a misdemeanor penalty for their action.

Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said the concern should fall under one of the bill's exemptions that allows the humane or swift destruction of an animal for cause using any usual or customary practice.

The original bill was crafted in large part by North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care in response to a failed attempt to pass initiated Measure 5 last year. Had it passed, Measure 5 would have increased penalties for people who harm dogs, cats and horses. The group consists of local humane societies, agriculture organizations, veterinarians and a zoo that worked on the legislation over the past two years.

Karen Thunshelle, state director for The Humane Society of the United States, said if Dalrymple signs the bill, North Dakota will be the 49th state with some felony-level penalties for animal cruelty.

But, she said, it "was watered down from its original version and falls short of what voters were promised."

She said she is "looking forward to working with legislators in the future to fortify the law and fill in the gaps that were left throughout this process."

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.