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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published November 06 2012

ND voters reject animal cruelty measure

North Dakota voters handily rejected a measure Tuesday that would have created a felony penalty for malicious cruelty to a dog, cat or horse, but both sides in the contentious struggle vowed to seek changes in state animal cruelty laws at the 2013 Legislature.

With 318 precincts reporting out of 426, the “no” vote led, 132,214 to 66,354 “yes” votes, or 67 percent “no” to 33 percent “yes.” The margin stayed steady throughout the night and reflected decisive votes against the measure in Ramsey, Cavalier and other area counties. The measure also trailed in Grand Forks County but by a slimmer margin, 53 percent to 47 percent with 24 of 27 precincts reporting.

Veterinarians, animal shelters and others who care for and about animals had found them-selves on opposing sides over Measure 5, which would not have applied to production agriculture or to lawful activities of hunters, trappers, licensed veterinarians or scientific researchers, or to people acting in defense of life or property.

North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states without a felony animal abuse penalty.

“We’re pleased that the North Dakota voters tool a closer look at this, and we want to continue now to further the work on animal protection and do it the right way,” said Jason Schmidt, a rancher in Kidder County and chairman of North Dakota Animal Stewards, which op-posed Measure 5.

He said his coalition will have a draft bill ready for the 2013 Legislature to stiffen penalties for animal cruelty, “and we have good support from legislators for our ideas. I think there’s probably a little more awareness of the subject than in the past.”

Ellie Hayes, campaign coordi-nator for North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty, which promoted Measure 5, agreed that the campaign boosted awareness.

“We’re calling this a win for the animals of North Dakota,” she said. “We brought this issue to the forefront and made people start to realize that North Dakota does have incredibly weak animal cruelty laws.”

As to Schmidt’s vows that his coalition will support legislative improvements, “We plan to hold them to that,” Hayes said.

Both sides spent heavily to sway voters on Measure 5, with campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state’s office totaling well more than $1 million by last week.

Much of the funding for the measure came from the Humane Society of the United States, which opponents sought to discredit as a radical organization.