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Published May 30, 2012, 03:15 AM

Jason Schmidt, Medina, N.D., column: Cruelty initiative linked to animal rights movement

It seems to me the ballot initiative is less about improving the treatment of animals and more about making North Dakota’s lawmaking process inviting to the Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based “cousin” of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

By: Jason Schmidt ,

By Jason Schmidt

MEDINA, N.D. — I’m writing in response to the column by Karen Thunshelle (“N.D. needs much tougher animal cruelty laws,” Page D3, May 20).

Every animal deserves proper care and treatment, but the animal cruelty ballot initiative sponsored by a small group of North Dakotans and its wealthy, out-of-state, animal rights partner, the Humane Society of the United States, won’t move the needle on animal cruelty in North Dakota.

To be clear, the Humane Society of the United States is not your local pet shelter. In fact, according to the organization’s tax returns, the Humane Society of the United States gives just 1 percent of its budget to hands-on pet shelters. (It spent more money on its executive pension plan than it did on pet shelters from 1998 to 2009, according to the Center for Consumer Freedom).

Under the ballot initiative’s plan for North Dakota, a dog, cat or horse must be beaten TO DEATH before justice could be brought. How is that protecting those animals from cruelty? It isn’t.

Under their proposal, an owner could severely and repeatedly beat a puppy, kitty or pony to near-death and would be free to do so. Is that justice? No!

If that repeat offender never is charged because the animal didn’t die, how would the proposed psychological treatment be administered? It wouldn’t. The ballot initiative also fails to name the entity that would provide the psychological treatment, not to mention its cost or how the mandatory treatment would be enforced.

The ballot initiative uses inflammatory language to incite our emotions, but is silent on the most common forms of animal mistreatment in our state — starvation and hoarding.

There is a better approach.

A diverse group of North Dakotans representing animal shelters, veterinarians, farmers, ranchers, pet owners, zoos and other animal care professionals have been working on a common-sense, legislative approach to improving the state’s humane treatment of animals law for more than two years — one that actually moves the needle on the real issues in our state, protects all animals and those who do right by them while punishing bad actors with penalties appropriate to their crimes.

Why is a legislative approach better than a ballot initiative? If the ballot initiative passes, North Dakotans will have to wait seven more years (or try to convince 2/3 of the Legislature) before they can improve the language.

This issue is better suited for North Dakota’s legislative process, where each bill gets heard before a committee and where every North Dakotan has the chance to weigh in on the topic.

North Dakotans don’t need to rely on the Humane Society of the United States, with its posse of lawyers or its representatives to craft laws in North Dakota. For example (and according to humanewatch.org), John Goodwin, who has an arrest record, is the Humane Society of the United States employee and a former spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, who said in 1997, “We’re ecstatic,” in response to an ALF arson at a farmer’s feed co-op in Utah that nearly killed a family sleeping on the premises.

Goodwin’s stated goal is “the abolition of all animal agriculture,” according to activistcash.com. He’s the same Humane Society of the United States representative who has been in North Dakota promoting the animal cruelty ballot initiative.

Arson? Ending all animal agriculture? And supporters talk about North Dakota values?

It seems to me the ballot initiative is less about improving the treatment of animals and more about making North Dakota’s lawmaking process inviting to the Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based “cousin” of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Do we want folks like Goodwin to be making our laws?

Or, would we be better served by a legislative approach developed by North Dakotans with practical and technical expertise in the proper care and treatment of animals, who provide that care every day?

If Herald readers want to move the needle on animal care in North Dakota, they should forget the petition and put their support behind the legislative approach.

Schmidt is president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

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