« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Jenny Michael, Bismarck Tribune , Published February 10 2013

ND horse abuse case shines spotlight on animal welfare laws

BISMARCK – A recent case of officials in Burleigh and Morton counties finding 99 dead horses in a man’s custody and seizing an additional 157 live ones that hadn’t been properly cared for has brought new attention to North Dakota’s animal welfare laws, described by many to be among the weakest in the country.

Crimes against animals – whether they be abuse, neglect, abandonment or the worst cruelty a person can imagine – are considered, at most, Class A misdemeanors in North Dakota, punishable by up to one year in prison and $2,000 in fines.

Officials seized the horses from rancher Bill Kiefer, who has homes in New Salem and Fargo. The 25 worst of the Morton County horses were taken to Triple H Miniature Horse Rescue south of Mandan. Two of those horses have since died.

Allison Smith, the founder of Triple H, had worked on a ballot initiative, voted down in November, that would have offered prosecutors a Class C felony animal cruelty charge to levy in the worst cases.

“This is why we need that,” she said.

The initiative went down, though most public sentiment surrounding the measure was not against the idea. The initiative only took into consideration dogs, cats and horses, which put many people off. Others were bothered by the influence of out-of-state interest groups.

Behind the scenes, the group North Dakota for Responsible Animal Care already was working on a complete remodel of the state’s animal laws. The group, which includes livestock and agricultural representation, along with animal shelters and humane societies, rewrote the entire title in the North Dakota Century Code, which now has taken shape as Senate Bill 2211.

State veterinarian Susan Keller worries that more neglect cases are possible, given a poor horse market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cut off funding for inspection of horse slaughter facilities in 2006. Keller says that hasn’t stopped horses from being slaughtered; now they are shipped to Canada or Mexico.

Keller said efforts to halt horse slaughter have led to more problems. People don’t want to put down their own horses or pay to have a veterinarian euthanize and dispose of a horse.

Keller said slaughter is a divisive issue within the horse and livestock industries and even talking about it can be difficult. Smith, who is firmly against horse slaughter, agrees that the issue divides horse owners.

Smith, who belongs to the North Dakota Anti Horse Slaughter Coalition, believes the problem isn’t lack of slaughter facilities but is an overbreeding problem. She said responsible horse owners buy horses knowing that they come with veterinarian bills and need care throughout their lives. When horses become unusable, responsible horse owners call a veterinarian and have horses humanely euthanized, she said.