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Published February 22, 2011, 01:40 PM

HSUS volunteer still against ‘canned’ hunt

MINOT, N.D. — Karen Thunshelle loves animals, and she hasn’t been afraid to put herself into a political arena to protect them — even if that means being in conflict with agricultural norms or some people’s private property sensibilities.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — Karen Thunshelle loves animals, and she hasn’t been afraid to put herself into a political arena to protect them — even if that means being in conflict with agricultural norms or some people’s private property sensibilities.

She was a key North Dakota volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States effort to ban private game preserve elk hunts — the “canned hunts,” or “high-fence” hunts. There are no state officials for HSUS.

“I do what I can to improve the lives of our animals legislatively,” Thunshelle says. “When you work in the trenches, you see, firsthand, the problems that others can be blind to.”

Thunshelle, 38, is a Minot, N.D., native. She has owned horses since she was 13 and fought for eliminating horse slaughter facilities in the country. She is in favor of bills in the Legislature to make animal cruelty a felony.

Her father was a railroad policeman. Her mother worked in the school system. In her early teens, she went with her mother to volunteer part time at a local animal shelter. It was a place for dogs and cats.

“I grew up there, in a sense,” she says. “She took my older sister, too, but she couldn’t handle seeing the animals caged up. I had a little more backbone.”

Thunshelle graduated from high school in 1991 and went to North Dakota State Univer-sity in Fargo, but returned to Minot before graduating and worked at the shelter. She went on to manage the shelter, which became her connection to the HSUS. She is member of the HSUS’s National Disaster Animal Relief Team.

HSUS flood volunteer

In the late 1990s, she went to the Fort Peck Reservation near Poplar, Mont., to collect feral dogs that were “packing up” and attacking people.

In 1997, when the flood hit Grand Forks, N.D., she was a part of the HSUS team that went there. She and her eventual husband, Ron, also a Minot native and now a small animal veterinarian there, both were on a team of about 50 people. The teams moved in air boats, retrieving pets from homes.

“There’s nothing more exhilarating than feeling you’re doing some good, helping people in a hopeless situation,” Thunshelle says. She and Ron, were married in 1999.

In September 2005, she went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help collect stray dogs that were packing up and attacking children.

She was involved on a national effort to ban horse slaughter in the United States. She wrote letters to the congressional delegation.

“In a nutshell, I think it’s a dirty business. It’s all foreign-based. Most of the meat goes overseas, and very little revenue stays in the U.S.”

The last U.S. horse slaughter plant closed in 2007.

She would oppose a horse slaughter plant being built in North Dakota.

“I think it would be a big black eye for our state to have it here,” she says, noting that such a plant was bad for Kaufman, Texas.

“I think you have to treat the equines differently than you treat the bovines,” she says.

In 2007, she got an alert from the HSUS and went to the North Dakota Legislature to testify on a bill that would have made animal cruelty a felony. She told stories from her own experience. Nobody had any questions.

Testifying on N.D. bills

Thunshelle remembers she was followed by a representative from the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

“He was wearing a suit and banging his fist on the podium, saying, ‘They’re just trying to get their nose in the door. They’re coming! They’re coming!’ And I realized, he’s kind of talking about me. He was a lobbyist and I was a pea in the pile. His rant did nothing but made me dig my heels in deeper — the idea that we are bad people.”

In 2008, she helped gather signatures for an initiated measure to ban game preserve elk hunts — canned hunts, in cooperation with the North Dakota Hunters for Fair Chase. She hasn’t ever visited such an operation, but the idea that the pens can be hundreds of acres is still insufficient because they can’t escape.

“It’s a guarantee,” she says.

The 2010, she helped find North Dakotans who were featured in TV advertisements for the Measure 2 commercials. The ads were sponsored by an HSUS-related fund.

Thunshelle has been a vegetarian since age 16, but says that has no bearing on her political activities. She explains that in early 20s, she rented a movie, “The Faces of Death.” The 1978 movie depicts both human and animal deaths and includes scenes from slaughterhouse. It “just confirmed that I didn’t want to take part in it,” she says, meaning the animal agriculture culture.

Thunshelle’s husband is from a farming family and hunts upland game and deer. Her daughter isn’t a vegetarian, either, and she says that choice will be hers. The idea that the HSUS would take aim at hunting or rodeos in general is not credible.

“You have to laugh. That’s an unattainable goal. It doesn’t seem logical to even strive for that,” she says.

Thunshelle has been in favor of SB2365 that would make it a felony to be cruel to animals.

“North Dakota has pretty basic requirements for humane care,” she says. “When I was at the shelter, I was in a position to see situations that were pretty horrible — clear cases of neglect or abuse, but law enforcement couldn’t do anything about it because there wasn’t any backbone in those laws.”

In one case, recently, a man was starving horses. Some of the animals were skin and bones, but there was an “indication” he may have been “trying to provide food,” so the horses stayed with him.

“I don’t see why livestock shouldn’t be afforded the same rights as dogs and cats,” she says. “You can call me an animal rights activist, ’cause I’ll fight for what I think is right. But I don’t think it’s right to have a stigma that we’re crazies.”

When she’s been active on an issue, some critics have phoned her house.

“Some do nothing but curse on the phone, and tell me what a horrible person I am,” she says. “And then I think if that’s the kind of people calling, I’m doing the right thing.”