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Published February 06, 2013, 10:56 AM

‘A real touchy issue’

Ag groups out to stop animal rights bill, Activist says state needs felony for worst instances of cruelty.

By: Tom Lawrence, Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. — Animals aren’t people, but they deserve decent treatment, according to a South Dakota State University Extension Service staffer.

But Jim Krantz, a cow-calf field specialist based at the Mitchell (S.D.) Regional Extension Center, says animals don’t deserve rights. Krantz says any changes to state laws on animals should be carefully weighed since agriculture, hunting, fishing and rural lifestyles could be impacted.

“It’s a real touchy issue, a real emotional type of issue,” Krantz says.

The extension service is officially neutral on the issue, he says, but some things are “really scary” about it, in the view of many of its staffers. They have decided to make presentations around the state to inform people of efforts to institute a law in the state making animal abuse a serious crime.

The Humane Society of the United States ranks South Dakota “dead last” for animal cruelty laws, Krantz says.

“They think we need a felony penalty for that, and I’m not here to argue that,” he says.

But Krantz says he feels such changes should come from South Dakotans, not from the HSUS, which he said is not supported by many South Dakotans. That’s one reason agriculture groups have decided to join together to spread their message.

They have to work together, he says. Agriculture producers make up less than 2 percent of the national population, so their voices are increasingly muted. In addition, the gap between people who live in urban setting as opposed to rural areas continues to grow bigger.

Krantz says the matter is up for discussion in Pierre, S.D. A state bill proposed to strengthen animal cruelty laws has been introduced this session.

Senate Bill 171 is before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. It is co-sponsored by Sens. Stan Adelstein, R-Rapid City, Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, and Reps. Paula Hawks, D-Hartford, and Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls.

It states, “No person may maliciously and intentionally cause the mistreatment, torture, or cruelty of any dog, cat, or horse resulting in serious injury, serious illness, or the death of the dog, cat, or horse. A violation of this section is a Class 6 felony. No person may own or possess a dog, cat, or horse for five years after the date of the sentencing.”

Activist responds

Darci Adams, the South Dakota state director of the Humane Society of the United States, says while she was not involved with writing the bill, she supports it.

“There is a need for such a law,” Adams says. “South Dakota is one of only two states in the country without felony-level penalties for most violent and egregious acts of cruelty.”

North Dakota is the other. A bill to add a felony-level penalty is in the works in that Legislature, too, Adams says.

She says the lack of a felony penalty for aggravated animal abuse doesn’t mean South Dakotans are cruel people.

“I don’t think it’s a reflection on our values,” Adams says. “I think we have great farmers and ranchers, and people who love their pets.”

But she says the state is behind others in passing laws to protect animals from extreme cases of abuse. Adams said an animal rights proposal has never been placed on the statewide ballot, as far as she knows, and nothing is planned for the future.

Krantz says he supports creating an animal well-being leadership group in the state, and said about 70 organizations have met to discuss creating such a group.

The SDSU Extension Service, South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones and numerous ag groups and agencies will present a united front, he says.

“If we pit urban against rural … we lose,” Krantz says. “No doubt about it.”

Some South Dakota elected officials are taking a stand against any more animal rights legislation.

In 2012, the South Dakota Legislature passed a concurrent resolution stating that it “opposes any attempt for any ballot initiative or acts by the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and other animal rights groups that would undermine the livelihood of agricultural producers.”

An almost identical resolution passed both houses again this session, with support from both Republicans and Democrats.

But there are animal rights supporters in the state.

Adams, of the HSUS, says the allegation that the Humane Society doesn’t support local animal shelters is off-base. It is primarily an advocacy agency, she says.

“Simply put, the HSUS was established to fight tough battles against cruelty — not to fund or replicate the work of shelters,” Adams wrote in a guest column for The Daily Republic last month. “Our work supports not only pets, but animals from aardvarks to donkeys, shelters, law enforcement and communities, animal and human alike.”

Still, she says it also does provide assistance to animals, and gave “direct care for 76,955 animals in 2011 and more than 90,000 in 2012 — through rescue, rehabilitation, veterinary care and sanctuary.”

It also supports local animal shelters and rescue groups with training, national conferences and fundraising efforts. The HSUS has a presence in South Dakota, where it assists animal supporters on Indian reservations, and in case of natural disasters.

She says claims that it is not a reputable charity are also off-base.

The Better Business Bureau and other oversight agencies have given it high marks, Adams says. Worth Magazine named the Humane Society as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities.

Ag groups spread message

Krantz says he has met with SDSU student groups and will speak to other service clubs on the topic. He says young people can help spread the message through blogs and via social media.

But he says people who make callous comments about animals on blogs, and others who don’t show they are sensitive to animals, only hurt their own cause.

“We are just as appalled at all the animal cruelty videos that come out,” Krantz says. “We have a lot of work to do in the ag sector today.”

He says animals must be cared for in a decent, humane manner, but passing laws based on what other states do is not the right answer.

Krantz says a 2010 Missouri animal rights law could be duplicated in South Dakota, and that would not be a good thing.

The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act made the ballot in the Show Me State, and after most people paid little attention to it, he says, it passed by a narrow margin. Although the vast majority of counties — 103 of 114 — voted against it, voters in more heavily populated areas supported it and it became law.

Krantz says emotional TV advertising propelled it to victory. The same thing could happen in South Dakota, he says.

But there was a reaction. The Missouri Legislature watered down much of the initiative before a compromise was reached and signed into law by the governor.

Krantz said it’s not merely something that would impact agriculture.

“It’s a hunting issue, it’s a fishing issue, it’s a small animal issue, a companion animal issue,” he says.

The Humane Society of the United States, which he preferred to call HSUS, is not what people think it is, Krantz says, and not directly tied to a local shelter or Humane Society. It had $148.7 million in revenue in 2010, and most of that goes for staffing, fundraising and lobbying efforts, and very little is directed to local animal shelters, he claimed.

Wayne Pacelle, the president and chief executive officer of the HSUS, wrote that he was opposed to all hunting, Krantz says during his presentation.

“We are going to use the ballot box and the democratic process to stop all hunting in the United States,” Pacelle wrote in 1990, according to Krantz.

However, in a more recent interview, he said the HSUS does not seek to outlaw hunting.

“We haven’t called for a ban on hunting,” said Pacelle, a vegan who also does not use dairy products. “We’ve called for a ban on particularly inhumane, unsporting and biologically reckless practices.”

During the Feb. 5 meeting, retired Davison County Sheriff Lyle Swenson said animal rights activists kept a close eye on animals during a Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo a few years ago.

Swenson said it seemed they were trying to capture images of animals in potentially abusive situations. He said rodeo volunteers kept an eye on them, and made sure they did not present a distorted view.

“If we don’t watch this, we’re going to get hung out to dry,” Swenson said.

Doug Papendick, a Lions Club member who also belongs to the Shriners, says animal rights activists have targeted circuses, which the Shriners have long sponsored and supported.

Papendick says if the activists get their way, all circuses will be shut down. He says most animals in most circuses are treated well.

Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg, a member of the club, was at the meeting.

Overweg said animal abuse cases are rare in Mitchell. One that happens from time to time is complaints that dogs are left outside in bitterly cold conditions.

Krantz says caring for animals in a humane manner is something people should and must do.

“It’s our responsibility,” he says. “But animal rights is a whole different matter. It’s a whole different thing.”

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