The very first U.S. state to pass legislation making animal cruelty and torture a felony was Massachusetts all the way back in 1804.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Rhode Island then became the second state to make these types of crimes a felony in 1896.
But, it wasn’t until 90 years later, in 1986, that another state — Wisconsin to be exact — came on board to make animal cruelty a felony as well. California soon followed in 1988, and so did nearly every other U.S. state since then – some right after Wisconsin, and others, like Arkansas, just five years ago in 2009.
While every state has its own journey and story, it’s hard to believe that there is still one U.S. state, the only one left, that has not made animal cruelty a felony yet, and this state is South Dakota.
Animal advocates have been fighting for felony penalties in that state for years, yet livestock producers have been hard to budge on this issue.
According to the Associated Press (AP) via the Washington Post, South Dakota’s legislature “has repeatedly rejected animal cruelty measures amid concerns from livestock producers.”
Now that just doesn’t seem quite right, does it? Because how can animal cruelty be a debatable topic?
Well it can, apparently, if animal farming facilities come into question.
South Dakota’s 2014 bill on animal cruelty felony penalties will officially be proposed once the legislature is back in session on January 14. What this new legislation will be seeking is to make “intentional and malicious acts of torture or other cruelty a Class 6 felony, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine,” reports the AP.
The bill will change South Dakota’s current law that leaves the inhumane treatment of animals a misdemeanor, which carries just a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The proposed legislation is certainly a step up from before, and should be one to celebrate once it’s passed since animal abusers will be given stronger punishment, something that is always welcomed.
Yet, there is an issue lingering beneath the surface of this bill, which is the treatment of farm animals in industrialized farming and other similar operations.
According to the AP, agriculture officials and animal rights groups worked together on the new legislation – a sign of collaboration that is often not seen, which is good news generally. But, of course, compromises had to be made on both sides to come to legislation that would make life better for animals while also keeping two sides relatively at ease.
It’s only natural that these types of negotiations come into play, and progress usually cannot be made without them. But, unfortunately, it’s farm animals who lose over and over again.
Difficulties and stalemates always arise when farm animal treatment comes into question, or even not in question but supposedly “implied” by new bills and regulations. This does not mean that those who work in agriculture are inherently evil beings who want to avoid prosecution for animal abuse – far from it, actually, but by taking farm animals out of the cruelty equation, we have deemed any treatment of them “acceptable” and “standard livestock-raising practices,” even though, if our companion animals were treated in such a way, everyone would be up in arms about it, shocked and infuriated.
And so, while South Dakota should be applauded for finally taking a step up for animals, in doing so, we should not forget about the other animals who were left out yet again – the suffering of thousands that are too often ignored.
A note of clarification: All information at the start of this article pertaining to animal cruelty felony penalties was taken from Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) Felony Status List available online here.
According to ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program Staff Attorney, Lora Dunn, “Some states make animal cruelty a felony on a first offense, while others require a subsequent offense for this level penalty. For the purposes of [ALDF's] Compendium and Rankings, states that have a felony option on the books for subsequent offenses ‘count’ as having a felony penalty for animal cruelty. For states that make cruelty a felony on a first offense, the nature of that offense is often especially egregious or committed with aggravating factors — within a certain time period of a previous offense, committed in the presence of a minor, and so forth (often called ‘aggravated’).”
For full text versions of animal cruelty felony penalties and other animal protection laws in your state, please visit ALDF’s Compendium available online here.
Image source: Neil Gallop / Flickr