OPINION: Don’t let out-of-state activists drive SD policyIn 2012, a group of out-of-state animal rights activists launched a campaign to change North Dakota’s animal cruelty laws.
By: Steve Dick , Guest columnist
The presidential election may have dominated national headlines in 2012, but many South Dakotans were carefully watching a ballot initiative vote just across our border. A group of out-of-state activists launched a campaign in North Dakota that could have had a significant impact on the state’s economy and way of life.
Why does this matter to South Dakota? We may be facing a similar battle soon.
In 2012, a group of out-of-state animal rights activists launched a campaign to change North Dakota’s animal cruelty laws. The group gained enough signatures for the issue to appear as Measure 5, a ballot initiative in the November election.
The group called itself “North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty,” but was actually spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and staffed by activists who had led similar campaigns in Missouri and other states. The ballot measure language was ambiguous, addressed only very rare acts of mistreatment, and triggered a number of other questions that could have negative impacts on agriculture and livestock production in the state.
The ballot measure was also unnecessary because a working group of North Dakota veterinarians, shelter professionals, farmers, ranchers, zookeepers and Board of Animal Health and Ag Department officials were already working on a legislative approach that would strengthen and clarify animal treatment laws. This legislative approach would allow the North Dakota Legislature to review, discuss and vote on a solution that met the state’s needs.
Instead, HSUS brought in activists and out-of-state donations to run a campaign of fear and hype. A campaign finance report from just before the election showed that “North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty” had received only $2,758 from North Dakota donors, compared to more than $675,000 from HSUS and its Washington, D.C.,-based fund. In fact, more than 93 percent of the group’s funding came from outside North Dakota.
But, North Dakotans quickly saw through the campaign hype. The North Dakota Animal Stewards coalition of agricultural organizations as well as the North Dakota Grocers Association, North Dakota Veterinary Technicians Association and many others launched a grassroots campaign to defeat Measure 5.
Town hall meetings, phone calls and countless hours of outreach from volunteers across the state ensured that the ballot measure was defeated 65 percent to 35 percent on election day.
Like North Dakota, South Dakota is a ballot initiative state. South Dakota has already been targeted by HSUS in its annual “Humane State Ranking” report card and we know that there have been organization meetings in the state. There is still confusion by many people about HSUS. Despite its “Humane Society of the United States” name, it gave less than 1 percent of its budget to support local pet shelters. Instead, it is focused on lobbying efforts and executive salaries.
And, like our fellow farm and ranch families in North Dakota, South Dakotans already have a strong commitment to providing the best possible care for our animals. We already have a network of veterinarians, nutritionists and animal care experts that we work with every day. And, each livestock group has a set of animal care standards that we follow.
Don’t let out-of-state lobbyists and activists drive the conversation about how South Dakotans care for our animals. Take time to learn more about these activist groups and reach out to friends, neighbors and family members now to ensure that we are ready in case South Dakota becomes the next target of their efforts.
Steve Dick is the executive director of Ag United for South Dakota, based in Sioux Falls.