Animals are people, too?

This week, the issue of animal rights raised its collective head here in Dunn County.

Winter01 Winter02

By Pat Merriman

For the DC Herald

This week, the issue of animal rights raised its collective head here in Dunn County. Now, I’m no stranger to the animal right’s movement or the spate of legislation that has been spawned across the United States to protect animals (in much the same vein as children) from abuse and neglect. So, I have seen this issue from both sides–the overzealous busy-bodies who think that livestock are people who deserve their own bedroom and bathroom; and the irresponsible owner who, frankly, treats his pets/livestock about like he treats his children, i.e., darned bad. But, here are my concerns. First, this stuff is a local issue and parties from out-of-the county, frankly, need to mind their own business. This is ranching territory and, in discussing the matter with my Breakfast Posse, the consensus was that if a complaint were made, law enforcement should investigate. However, these nosy “animal rescue” folks need to stay off their property and stop trying to personalize livestock. I’m sorry more liberal constituents, but I have to agree. For your own safety, if one of you sees abused or neglected animals, call the cops but, stay off the guy’s land.

Second, when a complaint is made by an animal rescue minion, the matter is now a criminal investigation and the rescuer’s involvement is over–no exceptions. That means the local law enforcement agency is calling the shots not the animal rescue folks. One thing I note frequently from most of these complainants is their denigration of both the livestock owner, our local vet and the officers who eventually disagree with them. The personal, back-biting nonsense about the owner, the vet, the cop which has nothing to do with the condition of the animal(s) involved! When I read how just no one else gets it except for the animal rescuer, I am immediately at Def Con 4 on my BS-ometer that someone just wants to dictate how the animal’s owner should just be doing a better job taking care of that animal based on a subjective standard of accountability–the caller’s. And, folks, that ain’t the standard adopted in North Dakota’s Animal Abuse/Neglect law, codified in Chapter 36-21.1, NDCC.

Third, pasturing livestock out in the winter weather in an open pasture is not animal abuse. Sorry! The emails were really flying about that this past week. If you are a passing motorists who sees these “poor animals” out in the cold in their fur coats eating snow covered grass/hay and/or drinking out of a creek…you just have to get over it I guess. Fourth, rescuers, Dunn County comprises some 2,100 square miles and, often, we have two deputies on duty to handle a volume of calls that the New York City or Los Angeles police departments would find daunting. If Sheriff Coker’s staff prioritizes more important crimes against actual human beings, you’ll just have to accept that. Persons first, animals second.

Fifth, one other thing that these “animal rescue” guys are doing, based on their erroneously perceived quasi-law enforcement authority, is conducting their own “investigation”. Ummm… nope! Not in Dunn County. §12.1-22-03, NDCC, makes trespassing a crime under most  circumstances. And, my experience with landowners everywhere is that if you are poking around on their land, without their permission, you are at risk of physical injury. I’ve seen Missouri farmers throw a load of buckshot at these well-intentioned interlopers and, that is a crime too. So, this week, I reminded the rescue folks that: (1) They are not peace officers or licensed or privileged to enter onto private property without the owner’s permission; (2) Criminal trespass is a crime; (3) Only a law enforcement officer can initiate any legal proceeding to remove/take livestock or other personal property away from the true owner; (4) The States Attorney has no authority to over-rule the cops on the matter; (5) Animal Rescuers are not to be present during any such investigation to protect both them and the integrity of any such investigation; (6) Other than making a complaint, the rescuer(s) are not to participate in any capacity unless specifically requested to do so by law enforcement; and (7) I have requested that Dunn County law enforcement seek local help before utilizing any out-of-county assistance on substantiated cases.

If I’m off base here, feel free to contact me and let me know. But, at least at this point, I think my office has taken the correct tack. This ain’t Hollywood, California.

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One thought on “Animals are people, too?

  1. As a veterinarian that has worked with local law enforcement, this is an important subject that requires education of both sides of concerned parties. Firstly, its not animal rights, its animal welfare which is protected by law. Although in a somewhat patronizing tone, Mr. Merriman correctly describes the process for reporting concerns for animal welfare.
    Usually, when there is an animal welfare concern both the Killdeer Police and the Dunn County Sheriff have responded appropriately by calling in a veterinarian to go and assess the situation. The veterinarian will assess proper food, water, shelter and medical condition and give a recommendation to the State Attorney for consideration of confiscation if severe. Often, the owners are given some guidance to correct the situation and then monitored regularly by the law enforcement and vet. The State vet is often involved for a guidance and second opinions. Sadly, most cases of animal neglect are often associated with equal human neglect within the household. The animal acts as a sentinel for mental or emotional dysfunction of the human family that owns it. Thus, true animal welfare cases involve multiple levels of professional intervention including law enforcement, veterinarians, and social services. Its important to report suspect cases but please trust that the system in resolving these cases. I have been involved with cases where my personal safety was threatened in these cases even along side law enforcement. So, be smart about it.

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