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On Bryce’s Mind

By Staff | Nov 2, 2012

In June the most controversial measures on the ballot were measures two (which dealt with property tax) and three (which dealt with freedom of religious practices from government interference). Now a new measure seems to have taken their place, as I’ve noticed from the influx of letters I’ve been seeing in the Tribune. Just what is Measure #5, and why is it so controversial?

Measure #5 is known as the “Prevention of Animal Cruelty Initiative”. If the measure were to pass, it would make it a class C felony for anyone who willfully and maliciously “burns, poisons, crushes, suffocates, impales, drowns, blinds, skins, beats to death, drags to death, exsanguinates, disembowels, or dismembers” a dog, cat or a horse. Punishment for those found guilty would include not just imprisonment or fines, but also psychological treatment, and the not being able to own a dog, cat or a horse for up to five years after the day they were sentenced.

Opponents of the measure say many things about it. They say that it is vague and leaves a number of things open to interpretation; that it will affect hunting and agriculture, despite supporters’ claims to the contrary; that actions described in the act rarely ever happen, and that more abusive actions aren’t covered, like starvation, neglect, hoarding, shooting, improper or malicious castration, and abandonment; that the North Dakota Legislature has done quite a bit for animals in this state, and may have another bill on the table for the next legislative session; that out-of-state interest groups like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that are really pushing for this measure to be passed through celebrity endorsements and appealing to emotion. The fact of HSUS sponsoring the measure is a central part of the argument, because one of the things opponents say is that HSUS spends approximately 1% on animal shelters and rescue operations. Another issue opponents have is the choice of animals. While dogs, cats and horses constitute a majority of companion animals/pets, there are other animals in North Dakota, some of which can be considered pets, and the measure doesn’t cover them (cattle, pigs, lizards, snakes, birds-I can name off a bunch). Another issue is that if the measure were to pass, a 2/3 majority vote in the state legislature would be required in order to make any changes to it.

Supporters of this measure say that this law needs to be passed in North Dakota, especially when North and South Dakota are the only two states where cruelty to animals is considered a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony. They say that they focus on the most extreme acts of cruelty, and it would not alter the existing misdemeanor law on the books (although it would create a new addition in the North Dakota Century Code); and that a Lake Research Partners poll from last year showed that over 60% of the surveyed public would vote yes on it, versus 17% who would vote no. They cite studies (seemingly outdated studies) that 70% of animal abusers went on to commit other crimes, including harming people, that 71% of abused women reported their abusers killed or harmed their pets, and that in families under State supervision, animal abuse existed in 88% of them. They also cite four examples of animal cruelty in North Dakota in the past: in late April three men killed a chihuahua while robbing a home in Grand Forks; a 27-year old woman brought her dog into a bar in Fargo and swung it around by the leash, pulled its hair out and threatened to kill it; in 2007 a Bismarck man slammed his girlfriend’s puppy on a counter and stepped on its head; and in 2004 a Fargo man slit a cat’s throat with a box cutter after holding it down.

Now, I am a dog-lover, I have an English cocker spaniel named Frannie back at my house. If anyone were to do any of the things described in the measure to Frannie, or a member of my family for that matter, legal punishment would be least of his or her concerns. The most of them would, and should, be what I, or several pet and animal owners would do to that person if I or they got the chance. At first glance I would support this measure without a second thought, but after doing some research, I don’t.

There are more than just cats, dogs and horses in North Dakota, and who or what is to decide that animals other than the three can’t be afforded the same protections? Plus of the instances of cruelty reported by the supporters, some of the actions of the accused aren’t even listed in the measure they want passed.

If we want a comprehensive and strict law to combat animal cruelty, we should let our legislature know that we want them to create, vote on, and pass it, after all they are more than capable of doing so. In regards to Measure #5, vote no.

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