February 14, 2012 in Idaho

Idaho considers felony animal cruelty law

By The Spokesman-Review

BOISE - Idaho is one step closer to ending its distinction as one of just three states with no felony penalties for animal cruelty.

Legislation making a third offense of intentional and malicious animal cruelty a felony punishable by a year in prison cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee this morning with just one “no” vote and headed to the full Senate; no one testified against the bill, SB 1303, which was brought by the Idaho Cattle Association and the Idaho Wool Growers Association.

Lobbyist Stan Boyd told the committee all agricultural practices would be exempt, “So nobody can say, ‘hey, you’re branding your calves, that’s cruelty to animals.’ It’s very well defined that this is exempt.”

Rick Stott, executive vice president of AgriBeef, spoke strongly in favor of the bill. “What this proposal does … is really puts the line in the sand to tell not only our industry but our citizens, the people in Idaho and the people across this country, that Idaho does care about animals and takes it seriously,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.” Plus, he said, the industry’s customers care about this.

The only other states without felony animal cruelty laws are North and South Dakota; an initiative now gathering signatures in Idaho would define animal torture and make it a felony on a first offense, with escalating penalties for subsequent offenses.

Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, said, “If we pass this legislation, the livestock industry will have a much better chance to defeat an initiative. … We cannot defend bad actions and bad behavior.”

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, asked, “If somebody’s capable of committing horrific acts against animals of whatever sort, why don’t we go straight to the felony?”

Stott responded, “We had lots of discussion about why we only went this far, the reason being that we want to pass something.”

Two years ago, the same committee and the full Senate passed a farther-reaching bill, but it died in the House.

“It’s about passing a felony provision, it’s plain and simple,” Stott said. “It’s been proven over the last couple years that we can’t get a comprehensive animal welfare bill through this, for a lot of reasons.”

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, who cast the only vote against the bill, said he feared it would just open the way for others to propose farther reaching bills in future years. He recalled a former neighbor whose family fell on hard times and its animals were neglected and had to be taken by neighbors and the Humane Society. “To even have them considered to be a felony looks pretty tough,” he said. “We’re going to try to fill the big house (state prison) out here.”

Stott responded that a case like Pearce’s neighbor’s wouldn’t be covered by the bill, which only targets third offenses, and only for the “intentional and malicious infliction of pain, physical suffering, injury or death upon an animal.” Maliciously overworking, starving, and abandoning animals would remain misdemeanors.

“This would be indication of a repetitive, completely irresponsible, habitual animal abuser,” Stott said.

Wyoma Clouss of the Idaho Dog Coalition, a group of kennel clubs and hunting dog clubs across the state, said, “There are times that people really do commit unspeakable acts toward animals, and torture really describes what’s going on. This is not just not taking care of your animals.” Jeff Rosenthal, executive director of the Idaho Human Society, called the bill “a positive step forward.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email