A measure to make abuse of horses, dogs and cats a Class C felony may be on the November election ballot in North Dakota.
The crime is currently classified as a misdemeanor -- the same as assault, battery, vandalism, theft, larceny and trespassing. Misdemeanors are generally punishable by fines and/or up to a year in a county or local jail.
The state has approved a group's petition to increase the penalty to a Class C felony. The group now needs to get about 13,000 people to sign the petition to get the measure on the November election ballot.
A Class C felony is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and five years in state prison. The crime of cruelty to a horse, dog or cat would have the same classification as negligent homicide, assisting suicide, felonious driving, theft of more than $500, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and custodial sexual assault.
Petition organizer Karen Thunshelle, Minot, says increasing the penalty for animal abuse would bring North Dakota in line with the majority of other states. Only North Dakota and South Dakota don’t classify animal cruelty as a Class C felony. She claims the law wouldn’t affect farmers and ranchers.
Greg Lardy, the head of North Dakota State University’s Animal Sciences Department, Fargo, isn’t so sure that that farmers and ranchers won’t be affected.
As it's written, the measure is “innocuous on the surface,” but it opens doors that could be a problem for the state's livestock producers and their livelihoods, he says.