N.D. bill permits veterinarians to seize animals being treated inhumanely

Public hearing scheduled today

February 11, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Legislation designed to beef up how North Dakota handles the inhumane treatment of animals is scheduled for a public hearing today. The measure, among other things, allows veterinarians to seize animals that they believe are subjected to inhumane situations.

The bill outlines the same authority for police officers.

Senate Bill 2365 revises North Dakota Century Code, seeking to create or enact eight new sections pertaining to the humane treatment of animals. It addresses everything from leaving animals in cars to abandonment and raises the criminal charges tied to some inhumane acts from misdemeanors to a class C felony — a classification that carries up to $5,000 in fines and five years in prison.

If passed, veterinarians who take control of an animal due to inhumane treatment can place a lien on it for the reasonable value of the animal’s care and shelter, as well as expenses tied to notifying the owner. The 250 or so veterinarians practicing in North Dakota would be cleared of any civil or criminal liability associated with seizing animals.

An official with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) considers empowering veterinarians as outlined in the bill to be “unusual.” Adrian Hochstadt, an attorney and head of AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, does not recall seeing laws like this in other states.  

The North Dakota Veterinary Medical Association (NDVMA) supports the measure, but the 14-page bill calls for so many sweeping changes that some stakeholders believe it won’t advance beyond today's hearing — at least during this year’s legislative session.

NDVMA Executive Director Nancy Kopp reports that the association has been working with lawmakers on the bill for six months, yet she expects its sponsors to backpedal on it now that a rewrite of the state code’s agriculture chapter is slated for 2013, and could incorporate the ideas outlined in SB 2365.

(North Dakota lawmakers meet biennially; 2012 is an off year for the Legislative Assembly.)

The current version of the bill, Kopp says, went way beyond what leaders in veterinary medicine had agreed to and, as a result, has attracted opposition from law enforcement groups that oppose some of the penalty increases.

“What could have been a two-page bill was expanded to 14 pages. ...The waters got muddied,” Kopp says.

“We needed law enforcement to carry this through, and they dropped the ball," she adds. "We’re a state with some of the most lenient penalties. If you don’t have the enforcing entity behind you, what should the veterinarian’s role be?”

The VIN News Service was unable to verify exactly which organizations oppose SB 2365. The North Dakota Association of Counties, which lobbies for county governments including sheriffs' departments, is taking a neutral stance, reports Executive Director Mark Johnson.

Assuming SB 2365 dies, Kopp expects that veterinary medicine will have a seat at the table in 2013.

“The veterinary profession will be involved,” she promises.

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