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N.D. ag commissioner takes aim at animal cruelty training for law enforcement

BISMARCK -- North Dakota's top agriculture official warned Monday that training provided by the Humane Society of the United States on how to handle animal cruelty cases poses a threat to the state's livestock industry, but an HSUS spokesman said...

Michael Gabrielson, a consultant of the Humane Society of the United States, gives a presentation to local law enforcement on animal cruelty at the North Dakota Highway Patrol on May 12. (Press Photo by Sydney Mook)
Michael Gabrielson, a consultant of the Humane Society of the United States, gives a presentation to local law enforcement on animal cruelty at the North Dakota Highway Patrol on May 12. (Press Photo by Sydney Mook)

BISMARCK - North Dakota's top agriculture official warned Monday that training provided by the Humane Society of the United States on how to handle animal cruelty cases poses a threat to the state's livestock industry, but an HSUS spokesman said that's untrue and trainers are only going where invited.

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said he believes the Humane Society's intentions behind the training "are misleading as they have a long history as an animal rights activist organization with the intention of ending animal agriculture."

"HSUS is encouraging and training law enforcement to identify and seize animals without a veterinary inspection and assessment," he said in a statement.

TJ Jerke, the society's state director for North Dakota, said the group supports humane and environmentally sustainable animal agriculture. He noted its field guide for law enforcement officers contains numerous references to seeking a veterinarian's expertise.

Goehring said in a phone interview that he hadn't read the guide, but added his staffers "have some concerns with it."

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The only training session so far was held May 12 at the Southwest Crime Conference in Dickinson, attended by Dickinson and Bismarck officers. It was led by Michael Gabrielson, a Humane Society consultant and sergeant with the Kettering, Ohio, police department.

Jerke said the Humane Society was invited to the conference, and he sent letters in June to all North Dakota sheriffs letting them know the training is available.

"We're not forcing law enforcement agencies to host these trainings," he said. "They're inviting us."

The Human Society offers the training in partnership with the National Sheriffs' Association, and it's nothing new, Jerke noted. Last year, 54 seminars nationwide trained 2,262 officers from more than 650 agencies, he said.

The training gives law enforcement agencies with ever-shrinking budgets a chance to learn tips and tools for handling animal cruelty and neglect cases in the field, Jerke said. Officers receive professional credit for completing the training, which is free.

No additional seminars are scheduled in North Dakota but some agencies have inquired about it, Jerke said.

Goehring said in a phone interview that he was "shocked, appalled and disturbed" to learn about the training and has a "great deal of concern" about a politically active group such as the Humane Society suggesting it has the tools needed to assess animal abuse, a job that he said should be left to veterinarians.

"We have competent vets across the state that specialize in treating large animals, and they can make a better assessment," he said, encouraging law enforcement officers concerned about possible animal cruelty to contact the department's Animal Health Division.

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North Dakota voters defeated a Humane Society-backed measure in November 2012 that would have made it a felony to maliciously and intentionally harm a dog, cat or horse, while at the same time approving a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices. The 2013 Legislature made animal cruelty a Class C felony and established a felony offense for animal abuse on a third or subsequent offense.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., stressed the importance of exports and research and development at the 2015 Bio-Industry Summit, held recently in Fargo. Cody Rogness/The Forum
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said one of the state’s greatest challenges is in animal agriculture at the 2015 Bio-Industry Summit, held recently in Fargo. Cody Rogness/Forum News Service

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