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Published April 30, 2012, 08:54 AM

Animal abuse measure exempts ag

Karen Thunshelle, a Minot, N.D., woman, a long-time animal rescue worker and wife of a veterinarian, is chairing the North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty campaign that would make it a felony to abuse dogs, cats and horses. Jody Foss, realtor and money broker in Dickinson, N.D., and Allison Smith of Bismarck/Mandan, N.D., owner of Triple H Mini Horse Rescue, are key organizers.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

Karen Thunshelle, a Minot, N.D., woman, a long-time animal rescue worker and wife of a veterinarian, is chairing the North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty campaign that would make it a felony to abuse dogs, cats and horses. Jody Foss, realtor and money broker in Dickinson, N.D., and Allison Smith of Bismarck/Mandan, N.D., owner of Triple H Mini Horse Rescue, are key organizers.

The ballot initiative for a state law would make it a Class C felony for cruelty to three animal species — a maximum of five years in prison, according to information provided by Foss.

The petition says the courts could require psychological or psychiatric evaluation of a perpetrator and could order them to not possess a dog, cat or horse for up to five years, if convicted. Branding or marking an animal for identification is excluded from the initiative, as currently written. If passed, it would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to change it.

As written, the proposed law pertains to a person who “maliciously and intentionally burns, poisons, crushes, suffocates, impales, drowns, blinds, skins, bludgeons to death, drags to death, exsanguinates, disembowels or dismembers any living, dog, cat or horse.” The language says the measure would expressly not “affect the North Dakota heritage of hunting, fishing, farming and ranching.”

The ballot initiative needs 13,400 signatures, but organizers plan to collect 17,500 by the Aug. 8 deadline to get it on the Nov. 6 ballot. The petition must have 25 original co-sponsors from North Dakota.

Foss says progress is “going fantastic,” with recent rallies across the state, but may not be halfway to its goal. The initiative only includes three species, but Foss says it was reasoned that those three species are the likeliest pet categories to be abused. It doesn’t add penalties for those who fail to report abuse in part to protect people who think they can care for an injured animal without law enforcement or veterinarian intervention. Foss says there are farmers or ranch people in favor of the initiative, but she couldn’t immediately supply names or contact information. She referred Agweek to Thunshelle, an HSUS member, who she described as a rancher, for reference.

Starvation is not included in the cruelty definition, Foss says. In meetings, some promoters are quoted as saying starvation can be subjective, may occur unintentionally because of old age, loss of teeth, disease or genetic issues. Ross says the initiative was prompted by frustration that state law penalties have been “shot down multiple times” in the Legislature.

Ross doesn’t play up HSUS’ role in the petition. She says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is another supporter.

HSUS has 11 million members and an annual budget of $160 million. It raises funds largely with television appeals, primarily emphasizing its efforts to save pets, such as cats and dogs. It often uses its funds for issues related to agriculture, including a bill pending in Congress that would double the space requirements in egg-laying operations. That provision is being considered as an amendment to the 2012 farm bill. It is opposed by regional egg producers, but is supported by the United Egg Producers, only as a defense against HSUS-led state initiatives in states such as California, which make interstate marketing of eggs as a commodity more difficult for national marketers.

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