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Published February 18, 2013, 10:49 AM

Stiff penalties for animal abuse

Recent cases bring attention to problem in ND

By: Williston (N.D.) Herald, Agweek

WILLISTON, N.D. — In a recent edition of the Williston (N.D.) Herald, two stories on similar topics provided a stark contrast.

In one, a Williston woman was sentenced to no time in jail and a fine of $200 after pleading guilty to bludgeoning her dog to death on Christmas Day.

In that case, Wanda Steen admitted she was guilty. But since North Dakota law says animal cruelty, even if the animal is killed, is only a misdemeanor, the prosecutor had no choice but to accept a small fine and a few conditions.

Steen will be on probation for a year, but since the probation is unsupervised, it will be difficult for authorities to be certain if Steen avoids alcohol and pets as the court has ordered.

While Steen was in court pleading guilty and avoiding any serious penalty, the North Dakota Legislature was beginning to consider a bill that would change the way animal cruelty is treated in North Dakota.

Proposed penalties

Under the legislation — Senate Bill 2211 — animal cruelty is defined as anyone who causes an animal “unjustifiable pain, suffering or death, including the infliction of any injury that results in a substantial risk of death” or “any willful act or omission that results in a serious illness and leaves an animal significantly disfigured or causes prolonged impairment.” If the law is passed, animal cruelty could be a Class C felony.

Under the circumstances of the bill, failure to provide adequate care would be a class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a class C felony for a second or subsequent offense within five years. Penalty for animal abuse would mirror the adequate care penalties.

In the November election, the voters of North Dakota voted down Measure 5, an effort to increase the penalties for animal abusers. At the time, opponents of the legislation said animal cruelty just wasn’t a problem in North Dakota. With two cases in the Williston area in the past few months, it is clear that it is not true.

New law in Legislature

Many who opposed Measure 5 said they preferred the law that is now in front of the Legislature. After reviewing the proposal, we agree that it would make a good law. The case in Williston and a horse shooting case in McKenzie County prove that stiff penalties are needed, and they are needed now.

The majority of pet owners treat their animals with love and take all the steps necessary to keep them safe and healthy, but as long as there are a few who think abuse is OK, North Dakota must act.