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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Building a Consensus on Animal Cruelty in North Dakota

There is disappointing news from North Dakota tonight, as Measure 5 appears to be going down to defeat. The opponents of this measure, mostly ranching and farming trade associations, were able to cast doubt among voters and tell them the proposed felony animal cruelty law was written by “outside” groups, as if the language morphs into something different depending on who backs it. Would any reasonable person expect anything but that HSLF and The HSUS would back an upgrade of the anti-cruelty law? 

Nd_logoBut the good news is that supporters and opponents agreed that North Dakota needs a felony cruelty statute, and Measure 5 was the catalyst for that discussion. Even the newspaper editorials opposing Measure 5—parroting our opponents—said the legislature must enact a strong and comprehensive law and make North Dakota the 49th state with felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty.

The North Dakota Legislature has failed for years to strengthen North Dakota’s weak anti-cruelty law, and last year even voted down a bill to study the issue. Now there’s an emerging consensus on the subject, and we hope it’s just a matter of time before the worst acts of cruelty are penalized with more than just a slap on the wrist. This issue is now on the public agenda because of the Measure 5 campaign, and the work of the dedicated North Dakota volunteers who gathered signatures and drove the public discussion on the need to protect animals in the state.

Even in one of the most rural, agriculture-oriented states in the country, like North Dakota, animal protection issues are now part of the public discourse. We may have lost the short-term vote, but animal advocates are gaining long-term ground by planting the seeds of reform and building a network of advocates and supporters who are fighting for this cause.

Our opponents said during this campaign they plan to enact a strong and comprehensive felony cruelty statute to protect all animals in 2013. We plan to hold them accountable on that pledge, and they will find our coalition ready to help. If they fail to pass a felony cruelty bill, however, we should expect to see another ballot measure in 2014, and the voters will know how hollow their promises were. These issues are ascendant, even in tough states, and are not going away.

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