North Dakota Votes Against Animals

Seth Victor

In what must be a move of Dakotan solidarity, the people of North Dakota voted last week against Proposition 5, which would have  made it a class C felony, punishable by incarceration, “to maliciously and intentionally harm a living dog, cat or horse.” There would have been the typical exceptions for veterinarians, hunters, scientists, and, of course, agriculture workers. This is a measure aimed at domestic pets, which would have enforced against instances akin to Michael Vick’s dog torture. Nevertheless, 65.4% of voters opted to have North Dakota remain with South Dakota as the only two states in the nation without animal cruelty felonies.

Interestingly, this comes in the same election when three states approved same-sex marriage, a measure in nearby Minnesota to outlaw same-sex marriage was voted down, and recreational marijuana was legalized in two states. Additionally, within North Dakota, voters opted to ban indoor smoking in the workplace by a 2-1 majority, but also voted 2-1 for a measure that bans any law that would abridge farmers and ranchers from employing their own industry practices. It seems that while we as a nation are in a piecemeal fashion expanding the liberties of our own species, animals are clearly still an “other” that do not receive the same considerations. The vote on the smoking measure in a state that is traditionally wary of government intervention shows that individuals do not have an absolute right to do what they want to the detriment of others, but efforts to extend that same logic to establish animals as something more than property remain trapped in our legal schizophrenia. I can grasp the reasoning behind the farmed animal vote; established industry, I expect, advertised, lobbied, and campaigned more effectively to keep the status quo. Why anyone in 2012 would want to keep torture to companion animals punishable only by a slap on the wrist, however, is beyond me.

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4 Responses

  1. I cannot believe the state rejected protections to animal abuse! No compassion is North Dakota. I am sadden. I was so sure people would try to help animals that are being abused,tortured and killed. What will it take when someone kills a family pet .

  2. It appears to me there’s an attempt here to throw different issues from far-flung areas into the same pot in order to bemoan a supposed fair moral comparison — but the end result is an unsavory stew of non-sequitors.

    Firstly, animals — by way of rationality and reality — will always be regarded as “other.” Regardless of whether one views human beings as something more than merely our biology (the view I hold), or regards us as nothing more than our biological species — there’s no rational reason to not regard a dog, cat, bird, horse, deer, etc. as “other” in relation to human affairs, laws and rights.

    Moving on, the gay marriage issue might rest more in matters of the freedom of consenting adult decisions and expressions within the parameters of civil law, than it does in any matter of basic rights, and it has nothing to do with whether it’s socially or morally acceptable to kick a dog, and/or what the legal penalty should be for doing so.

    Gays are human beings — dogs are not.

    And the smoking bans are a matter of public health.

    All that said, wanton cruelty toward pets or companion animals carries a stiff penalty by way of social stigma. Public reaction across the board to the Vick case was strong, and fuming with anger. That’s a good indication of a steep social stigma against animal abuse, which I’m sure stands in the Dakotas as well as it does anywhere else.

    And, IMO, social stigma goes much further toward curing social ills and wrongs than legislation does.

    It’s increasingly unacceptable, and rightfully so, to pry into gay people’s lives or refer to them with pejorative slurs, to smoke in a place or such a manner that others might have to suffer the fumes, or to abuse an animal.

    The reasons for the Dakotas rejecting the mentioned legislative measures are, I’m thinking, probably far more complex and nuanced than people there simply not caring a toss about animals, or wanting to give license to cruelty.

  3. What I’m guessing is that the voters were successfully convinced that the measure was the effort of “out of state” interests and would criminalize activities like sport hunting and animal research. It obviously would not, but it’s often the people who have the deepest pockets who control the debate.

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