Inhumane treatment of animals is still a misdemeanor in South Dakota, the only state without felony penalties for animal cruelty. Current law carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine for animal mistreatment. Only dog fighting is a felony.

In February 2013, a South Dakota legislative panel rejected a measure that sought to make aggravated cruelty to dogs, cats and horses a felony.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-1 to kill the bill that would have made it a felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of $4,000 to mistreat, torture or be cruel to a dog, cat or horse.

The measure would not have applied to hunting, fishing, trapping, branding and any activities that are customary in farming and ranching.


Although it may not contain all the protections animal activists would like to see, a proposal now being crafted by South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven would make malicious behavior, intentional torture and mutilation of animals a felony, while at the same time excluding accepted livestock-raising practices.

The bill seems to be getting support from both animal advocate groups and the agricultural industry, the Rapid City Journal reports.

Oedekoven said he'll present Senate Bill 46 at the upcoming session of the state Legislature, which opens Tuesday, on behalf of the Animal Industry Board and the Department of Agriculture.

Senate Bill 46, if passed, will make animal cruelty a class six felony in South Dakota, which is a maximum of two years in prison and a fine up to $4,000.

The bill is sponsored by the Senate Agricultural Committee.

Standard livestock-raising practices are not mistreatment under the proposal and will not be covered by the legislation, Oedekoven stated.

"I should emphasize that South Dakota ag groups have taken the lead on this issue," Oedekoven said of the proposal that is in part motivated to prevent a future statewide ballot measure on the contentious issue.

State Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch said taking that proactive approach allows the state to control its own destiny and that of its agricultural industry rather than risking having outside interests come in and dictate legislation.


Shari Kosel of Lead, a member of South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together (SD FACT), said groups that have often considered themselves on opposite sides of the issue found they were not as far apart as they once thought.

Any type of proposed felony legislation on animal cruelty raises eyebrows in the agriculture community, according to Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers.

"Not because we support any abuse of animals, but because we definitely have concerns about what that means for the threat of prosecution of standard practices that go on here that other people just might not be comfortable with," she said.

The proposed changes will distinguish malicious acts of cruelty from accepted livestock practices, Oedekoven assures.


South Dakota Sheep Growers President Max Matthews of Bison said last week that his association opposed an earlier draft of the legislation, but the most recent draft is more agriculture-friendly.

"We are now ready to support the Animal Industry Board and what they're saying right now," he said.

Sources: Rapid City Journal