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Poll says N.D. voters want stiffer animal cruelty laws

North Dakota voters would overwhelmingly support raising penalties for "extreme and malicious" acts of animal cruelty to felony levels, according to a poll commissioned by the Humane Society of the United States.

North Dakota voters would overwhelmingly support raising penalties for "extreme and malicious" acts of animal cruelty to felony levels, according to a poll commissioned by the Humane Society of the United States.

The state is one of just three that treat extreme cruelty to pets as a low-level misdemeanor, according to the society. The others are South Dakota and Idaho.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, who tried during the 2011 legislative session to increase state penalties for "egregious" cases of animal cruelty and later to have the issue studied prior to the 2013 session, said Tuesday he likely will make another effort next year.

"The problems are still there," he said. "We have no penalties for the egregious form of offender."

Mock developed his 2011 bill with assistance from farm and ranch groups and representatives of animal shelters. It proposed a felony penalty for anyone convicted of severely mistreating animals twice within five years. When that failed to gain support, he proposed the interim study.


In April, however, the state House of Representatives voted 56-36 against an interim study after opponents argued the state's current laws were adequate.

Survey says

For years, the Humane Society of the United States has ranked North Dakota near the bottom among the 50 states for its lack of felony-level penalties. In the recent survey, 63 percent of North Dakotans polled said they would vote to make cruelty to companion animals a felony, while 17 percent said they were opposed.

Lake Research Partners designed and administered the telephone survey of 505 likely voters in mid-November, using a list of registered voters with participation in similar elections. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

A news release from the society Tuesday quotes JoDee Foss of Pet Project Humane Society, based in Dickinson, N.D., as saying the state's cruelty laws "desperately need to be strengthened."

Alison Smith of Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue in Mandan, N.D., said North Dakota's laws "are sadly lagging behind those of the rest of the country."

Ranchers worry

Mock drafted his 2011 bill with guidance from the N.D. State's Attorneys Association and animal shelters as well as the state Stockmen's Association and other ranch and farm organizations.


Such organizations had resisted previous calls for stiffer animal cruelty laws, fearing that could lead to a broader animal rights assault on their livelihoods.

But Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the stockmen's group, said at the time she was "pleased to have a chance to help shape that legislation with other people who have the best interests of animals at heart." She said group members "want to make sure that any language drafted would find a balance and doesn't unintentionally target animal agriculture."

Still, Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, warned fellow legislators in 2011 that stiff animal cruelty laws frequently are pushed by advocacy groups opposed to ranching and meat consumption and could lead to "loopholes," more restrictions and penalties. A majority of House members voted with him against Mock's bill and the amended measure that would have set up the interim study.

Another try

Mock, who volunteers at the Circle of Friends Humane Society of Grand Forks, said the broad coalition that worked to come up with acceptable language in 2011 wanted to "protect North Dakota's animal industry" as well as improve animal cruelty laws.

"Unfortunately, it was too much too soon for some members," he said Tuesday. "So we proposed the study instead, but unfortunately legislators were reluctant to go even that far."

He said the issue was complicated when Legislative Council staff, seeking to modernize "archaic" language in the law, took his proposed bill from four pages to 16. That unnerved some agricultural interests, who "feared that loopholes in our laws could be taken advantage of" by animal rights activists.

Mock said he's eager to consult again with farmers and ranchers to "bring our laws into the 21st century" while protecting the industry against the more aggressive animal rights activists.


"By getting the coalition back in the room, I'm confident we can get some change in the laws (during the 2013 session)," he said, "or at the very least study them in the next biennium and make changes in the 2015 session."

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com .

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