Examining Measure 5: N.D. initiative takes aim at animal abuse

People love their pets, and one measure on the November general election ballots in North Dakota is taking aim at that loyalty.


Pioneer Publisher & Editor

Posted Oct. 12, 2012

People love their pets, and one measure on the November general election ballots in North Dakota is taking aim at that loyalty. But, the measure is coming under scrutiny from a number of circles, including some animal rights activists.The North Dakota Prevention of Animal Cruelty Initiative, Measure 5 on the ballot, if enacted, would make it a Class C felony for an individual to maliciously harm a living dog, cat or horse. The measure does create some exemptions from the law, such as agricultural workers, veterinarians, scientific researchers and hunters. According to the Humane Society Legislative Fund, 48 states punish some form of animal abuse as felony offense. The two states that don’t are North Dakota and South Dakota. Measure 5 would remove North Dakota from that list.

A meeting was held at Bowman City Hall last week promoting “Why Measure 5 is Wrong for North Dakotans and Our Animals.” More than 50 people attended the Thursday evening session. The event was sponsored by the North Dakota Animal Stewards and featured three guest speakers: Dr. Don Kruger, Bowman Veterinary Clinic; Julie Ellingson, ND Stockmen’s Association; and Dan Kleinsorge, Missouri Farmers Care.

“We don’t need an outside entity telling us what to do,” said Kruger. “Passing Measure 5 is opening the door to an outside entity. The way Measure 5 is worded, it is easy to see why so many people want it, but it has nothing to do with abandonment or starvation or malnutrition.”

Kruger said that since 1991, there have been 24 cases in the state involving animal cruelty, and only two of the cases would fall under the extreme cases outlined in Measure 5. The other 22 cases involved abandonment or malnutrition. Kruger also warned the measure was vague in its present form.

“I don’t see what is wrong with (the laws) we have right now,” Kruger said. “If Measure 5 passes, who is going to enforce it? How much common sense is going to be applied to the new law?”

The vet also outlined several cases which might or might not be considered “animal cruelty,” such as a herd dog riding in the back of a truck. “If the canine falls out, is that animal cruelty?” he asked. “A lot of things could develop from the passage of Measure 5 that would make our lives pretty miserable.”

Kruger added that while the initial measure is strictly limited to dogs, cats and horses, he said the mere mention of horses could potentially open the door for livestock to be included.

“Horses are livestock,” he said. “They are not pets, though a couple of people would probably disagree. If Measure 5 passes, it could open the door for livestock – cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, etc. – to be included down the line.

“The wording is so vague (on Measure 5), and that’s the problem. It sounds so good, who wouldn’t want to protect pets or horses. But, to me, it’s subjective and that’s another problem. The official ballot text of Initiated Statutory Measure No. 5 reads as follows:

“This initiated statutory measure would create section 36-21.1-02.1 of the North Dakota Century Code. This measure would make it a Class C felony for an individual to maliciously and intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse and provide a court with certain sentencing options. The measure would not apply to production agriculture, or to lawful activities of hunters and trappers, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers, or to individuals engaged in lawful defense of life or property.”

A “yes” vote means the voter approves the measure as summarized above. A “no” vote means the voter rejects the measure summarized above. To qualify the initiative for the 2012 ballot, supporters had to collect a minimum of 13,452 valid signatures. Supporters submitted approximately 25,000 names on signed petitions Aug. 7. Last month, Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced that enough sufficient signatures had been obtained and the measure qualified for the ballot.

Opposition to Measure 5 is coming from various groups. One animal rights group claims the measure only protects dogs, cats and horses and ignores the many other types of companion animals kept as pets. They also argue Measure 5 only covers the very worst types of abuses, but not the routine types of neglect.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund claims Measure 5 would make it a Class C felony to maliciously and intentionally burn, poison, crush, suffocate, impale, drown, blind, skin, beat to death, drag to death, exsanguinate, disembowel, or dismember any living dog, cat or horse, language that District 36 State Representative Shirley Meyer finds particularly inflamatory and extreme. “This type of emotionally charged language is meant to manipulate and evoke sympathy,” Meyer said. Meyer goes on to point out that North Dakota ranchers and farmers are well-versed and knowledgable when it comes to animal husbandry. “Nobody wants to see an animal abused,” she said.

If passed, the court could force those found guilty of violating this law to undergo mandatory psychological or psychiatric evaluation and counseling, including counseling in responsible pet ownership or animal cruelty prevention. Violators could be ordered not to own or possess a dog, cat, or horse for up to five years after the date of the sentencing.

The measure would not alter the existing law for less serious offenses, such as unintentional neglect, which is a misdemeanor in North Dakota.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association strongly opposed Measure 5 during its convention in Fargo held at the end of September. “Of the 50 or more that showed for our meeting (in Bowman), I would say that 45 are in the livestock industry and have already shot down Measure 5,” Kruger said. “I would encourage people to find out who is supporting this and where it all started. Right now, I am scared to death this could pass. Education is the key. Find out the entity behind it and learn the repercussions if this passes.”

Meyer agrees, further stating that the Humane Society’s mission is directly opposed to supporting production agricultural. Furthermore, Kruger suggests efforts by the North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care (NDRAC) offers a much better alternative to the proposed ballot initiative.

“It’s North Dakota people taking care of North Dakota,” he said. NDRAC is comprised of representatives from the Dakota Zoo (Bismarck), Central Dakota Humane Society (Mandan), Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead Chapter, North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Farmers Union, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, North Dakota State Board of Animal Health and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

“As veterinarians, we work to provide care every day for both small and large animals,” said Dr. Del Rae Martin, past president of the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, in a press release. “The North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association feels the draft legislation offers a better solution than the proposed ballot initiative, which is narrowly focused, limited to three species, and fails to address the most common forms of animal mistreatment in our state.”

In the same press release, two other state livestock leaders offered their support for NDRAC’s proposal rather than Measure 5. They were Jason Schmidt, rancher and president of the North Dakota’s Stockmen’s Association, and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

“This group is working to provide a legislative solution that protects all animals and those who treat them appropriately,” said Schmidt.“Caring for animals is a priority for livestock producers like me and companion animals owners alike. We are partners in this effort to make sure good stewardship is the standard and the appropriate exemptions are included.”

“The group (NDRAC) has been working together for more than two years on efforts to improve the humane treatment laws,” Goehring stated. “The collaboration by various animal stakeholders groups, from shelters to agriculturalists, truly exemplifies that North Dakotans can work together to reach solutions good for the entire state.”

Opponents of Measure 5 may be fighting an uphill battle. Various polling on the topic shows overwhelming support among state voters and one local Hollywood star has thrown his support behind it. Kellen Lutz, star of the “Twilight” movie series and a Dickinson native, has announced his support of Measure 5.

“I was saddened and shocked to learn that my home state is one of only two states in the country that fails to take proper action in the cases of extreme acts of cruelty against animals,” Lutz released through a press release last month. “Supporting this initiative is the best way to ensure that laws truly represent our values.”

Lynn Anderson, a Grand Forks native, an equestrian and Grammy-award winning country music star, has also thrown her support behind Measure 5. “As a North Dakotan, I am truly saddened that my home state lags so far behind in protecting animals,” Anderson said. “The fact that even in extreme cases of animal cruelty to dogs, cats and horses even is only considered a misdemeanor in North Dakota needs to change. North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty is the leading support group behind Measure 5 and is a coalition of animal shelters, veterinarians, pet rescues, animal control officers and other citizens.

“The people of North Dakota has resoundingly joined to say that we won’t tolerate extreme acts of violence against our pets, and we don’t want to be one of the only states in our country that allows abusers of dogs, cats and horses to get the equivalent of a parking ticket for killing or torturing them,” said Karen Thunshelle, campaign manager for North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty. “We ask voters to think of their pets when they go into the voting booth on Nov. 6, and vote ‘yes’ on Measure 5 to protect them.”

In a fact sheet released by North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, it lists the reasons why the timing is now to act. The release states “The North Dakota state legislature has failed for years to address the state’s weak animal cruelty laws, and last year refused to even study the issue. Since legislative leaders and the governor did not provide specific pledges or assurances of action on this topic in the nextsession, citizens moved forward with this much-needed and overdue ballot measure to give the people of North Dakota the opportunity to weigh in directly on this issue.”

Nonetheless, State Representative Meyer warns voters of the long-term implications of passing this measure. “It takes seven years and a three-fourths majority to make any changes to a measure once it is passed. Is this a chance we care to take?” Meyers said. In the end, Meyers encourages North Dakota voters to consider the underlying motivations behind the proposed measure and to do their research and carefully consider the stakes for all North Dakotans if the measure should pass.


Editor’s note: Jennifer Kocher contributed to the content of this story.


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