Animal welfare bill on horizon in S.D. | TSLN.com

Animal welfare bill on horizon in S.D.

Matthew J. Trask
for Tri-State Livestock News

It is the feel good story of the 2014 SD legislative session, complete with puppies, kitties and bunnies, and starring Dr. Dustin Oedekoven and Senator Shantel Krebs, among others.

It is Senate Bill 46, an act "to revise certain provisions regarding animal welfare and to provide a felony penalty for cruelty to animals," coming to a House vote near you.

The bill, if approved by the House would make cruelty to animals a Class 6 felony, with exemptions for hunting and trapping, wildlife agencies, scientific experiments, and any "usual and customary practice" in production agriculture, among others. The bill further expands existing language prohibiting dogfighting to include all animals. After North Dakota passed a statute last year making animal cruelty a felony, South Dakota was alone in not having such legislation.

"Animal felony cruelty legislation (in South Dakota) has a storied history," says Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, State Veterinarian and Executive Secretary of the Animal Industry Board. "As the state veterinarian, I have opposed previous attempts to change our good and effective laws on behalf of the Animal Industry Board. One such attempt was SB 171 in the 2013 Legislature, which was defeated in the Senate Agriculture & and Natural Resources Committee. The Chairwoman (Shantel Krebs) challenged proponents and opponents of that bill to work together to find common ground on this issue, as well as a solution, if possible."

In April, Dr. Oedekoven and his staff sat down with Shari Kosel and Sarah Parker of South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together, or SDFACT, to lay the groundwork for what would become SB 46.

"In July or August, I forget now, we sat down with Dr. Oedekoven and his staff and representatives from over forty different groups," says Kosel, who is the Membership Director for South Dakotans for the Arts as well as a leader in SDFACT. "We didn't want the legislation to in any way hurt the state's number one industry, agriculture. After we said that, the people in the room just kind of deflated and we started working together. And like someone said in the testimony, the work didn't take hours, it took days."

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"I learned some things I didn't know in those meetings. Last year's bill was sometimes too specific," she says, referring to failed SB 171. "Like, it prohibited burning an animal, which we thought of as things like setting dogs on fire, but the Ag groups said 'wait a minute, that could apply to branding.' So we changed that."

Because the Bill was introduced by the Animal Industry Board it was sent to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, where it passed unanimously with one small amendment. It was in that hearing that SB 46 encountered it's only opposition so far this year, in the form of Anita Lee, a ranchwife and active citizen from Hereford, S.D. "They say we're the only state in the nation not to have this. Well, we're the only state that doesn't have a motorcycle helmet law, too. I thought we were a nation of states, each a little different, and that's what makes us unique," she said in testimony.

"Yeah, I didn't know I was the only one in opposition to the bill," she says by phone. "I just thought I was the first opponent, but the second one never showed up. I think felonies should apply to (crimes against) humans." She worries that people convicted by this law will feel the sometimes undue stigma of a felon. "I've had four felons in my house, I think, and they'd all be welcome back, but a lot of people treat felons as if they were subhuman. It also doesn't mention rodeo, which I think is funny, because it's our state sport."

The bill does not include the word "rodeo" specifically in the list of exemptions, although it exempts "the boarding… competition, exhibition… showing… transportation and use of animals," which Dr. Oedekoven and others are confident would cover the state sport.

"I guess I don't know much about it," says Chancey Wilson of the bill. Wilson is co-owner and operator of Wilson Rodeoes, a family livestock contracting business near Kyle, S.D. He would be more comfortable with it, he says, if the word "rodeo" was in the list of exemptions.

SB 46 unanimously passed the Senate floor vote with no real opposition. Because it involves changing the penal code, it will be considered in the House Judiciary Committee.

"It's important to note that, if the bill passes, nothing that is currently legal will be illegal come July 1." says Dr. Oedekoven. "The biggest changes are the addition of a felony penalty for acts which I believe all animal owners in SD would agree are unacceptable in our society, and secondly the exemptions have been more clearly stated to better protect ag and animal use practices from being misconstrued as cruelty or mistreatment. The AIB will continue to enforce the provisions of the law concerning livestock species, and local humane societies which are currently regulated by county commissions and local judges, will continue to handle complaints on small animal pets in local municipalities." F