Animal Groups Split on Measure 5

The debate over Measure 5 is gathering steam across the state, and while supporters and detractors agree stiffer penalties are needed in cases of animal cruelty, they cannot agree on the wording of the proposed law.

Karen Thunshelle, of the North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty (NDSAC) is the campaign manager for Measure 5. She said passing the initiative should be a “no-brainer” to anyone who reads the legislation.

“Our initiative was worded very carefully, drafted very carefully with the input of North Dakotans and the State Vet,” Thunshelle said. “As far as our wording, it was tailored to this state to protect our agriculture, to protect our hunting... This initiative is worded for felony acts of malicious and intentional cruelty and torture. We’re going for felony penalties; these are felony acts and torturous things.

The measure would create a new section to the North Dakota Century Code that would make it a class C felony for any individual to maliciously or intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse, and will also provide the court with certain sentencing options. The measure would not apply to agriculture, lawful hunting and trapping, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers or any individuals engaged in lawful defense of life or property.

North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care (NDRAC), is opposed to the wording of Measure 5 and is proposing legislation to be introduced in the next legislative session. The NDRAC’s draft language addresses animal abandonment, neglect and cruelty and includes penalties based on the severity of the act, from infractions from class A misdemeanors to class C felonies.

The NDSAC law protects dogs, cats and horses, the most common companion animals in North Dakota, but Nancy Kopp, director of the North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, says the NDRAC law protects all types of animals in all types of neglect/abuse situations.

Kopp wrote in a column in the Grand Forks Herald that horrific animal abuse cases are rare in North Dakota and urged residents to vote down Measure 5.

“On the North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty website, the following statement is made: “In North Dakota, it’s only a misdemeanor to set a puppy on fire.” Who is setting puppies on fire? When has this ever happened? This kind of disingenuous play on human emotion is a poor way to sway opinion,” Kopp said.

Thunshelle said she has worked on animal cruelty legislation in North Dakota for years and said Measure 5 has a good chance of passing. The volunteers who gathered signatures to get it on the ballot collected over 25,000, nearly doubling the amount needed.

“North Dakota is only one of two states that doesn’t carry a felony penalty for malicious acts of cruelty. Every other state in the Nation has some sort of protection. We’re not out to make good people bad, we’re out to protect the animals from bad people. Anybody that does this type of cruelty, which is very specific in our measure: Burning, crushing, torturing, malicious acts – these are not safe people.”