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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published March 27 2012

North Dakota OKs petitions for initiated animal cruelty measure

GRAND FORKS – An effort to increase penalties for animal cruelty in North Dakota took a step forward Tuesday as Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved for circulation a petition to place an initiated measure on the ballot.

The initiated measure would make it a class C felony “to maliciously and intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse.”

The new statute would not apply to production agriculture, lawful activities of hunters and trappers, licensed veterinarians, scientific researchers or “individuals engaged in lawful defense of life or property,” according to the approved petition title.

To get the measure on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, sponsors of the petition drive must submit at least 13,452 qualified signatures to the secretary of state by Aug. 8.

Efforts to increase the state’s penalties for animal cruelty have been made in the past two legislative sessions. Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, tried during the 2011 Legislature to increase penalties for “egregious” cases of animal cruelty.

He had drafted his bill after consultations with several agricultural groups, but it failed as opponents argued the laws could be used to harass legitimate farm and ranch operations.

The House also voted against Mock’s subsequent proposal that the issue be studied over the interim, as opponents said the state’s current laws were adequate.

Mock has said he may offer another bill in the 2013 session to establish a felony penalty for animal cruelty.

North Dakota is one of just three states that treat extreme cruelty to pets as a low-level misdemeanor, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The society has consistently ranked the state near the bottom in protecting animals from extreme cruelty.

It released poll results in February suggesting that 63 percent of North Dakotans would vote to make cruelty to companion animals a felony, while only 17 percent said they were opposed.

The leader of the initiated measure campaign is Karen Thunshelle of Minot.

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Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald