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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published May 03 2012

Backers of stiffer animal cruelty laws cite beating death of Grand Forks dog

GRAND FORKS – People working to increase North Dakota penalties against animal cruelty are citing the recent killing of a pet dog during a Grand Forks home invasion and robbery as an example of why the cruelty laws should be toughened.

North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, a coalition of animal shelters, veterinarians, pet rescue operations, animal control officers and others, said the beating death of a Chihuahua named Baby “demonstrates why certain acts of animal cruelty must be punished as felonies.”

Sherman Jones, 39, said three masked men broke into his Grand Forks mobile home early Monday, attacked him and his wife and killed the dog before taking prescription drugs and household property. Police are investigating the incident.

“Baby” was one of the couple’s five Chihuahuas.

The coalition is circulating petitions for an initiated measure that would make it a Class C felony “to maliciously and intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse.” To get the measure on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, sponsors must submit at least 13,452 qualified signatures to the secretary of state by early August.

The proposed new penalty 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.”

An incentive

“Hopefully the assail-ants will be caught and prosecuted aggressively for their attack on Mr. Jones, though under current law they face only a slap on the wrist for beating his dog, Baby, to death,” said Karen Thunshelle, campaign manager for the petition drive, in a news release.

Nearly all other states have laws “that punish such egregious acts of cruelty as the serious crimes that they are,” she said.

In an interview Thursday, Thunshelle said she couldn’t say how many petition signatures have been collected so far.

“We just had our kick-off rally a week and a half ago and got all the packets out to everybody, so we haven’t had our first wave of signatures come in yet,” she said. “But we have a good number of volunteers, and we’re off to a good start.”

She said the Grand Forks incident “was so horrible and sad, just one more incentive for us to push hard. The ruthlessness of some people! All that the family had to go through, and they lose a pet, too. It’s just unacceptable.”

Raising the penalty for such actions “would give law enforcement one more tool to work against people like this,” Thunshelle said.

Ag interests

Efforts to increase North Dakota’s penalties for severe animal cruelty failed in the past two legislative sessions, as farm and ranch groups expressed concern that it would open the door for more extensive restrictions advocated by what they perceive as “extreme” animal rights groups.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, who proposed stiffer penalties for “egregious” animal cruelty in the past, has said he is considering another attempt during the 2013 session. Mock has consulted with farm and ranch interests and others, seeking to allay their concerns.

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

online

To learn more about the proposed initiated measure or to volunteer, visit www.ndstopcruelty.com


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Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald