My Lead neighbor Shari Kosel mentioned last September that she would try to get some tougher cruelty protections for pets on the books this legislative session. Her group, South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together, is following up with a complete bill ready for the Legislature:

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to provide for felony penalties for aggravated cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA: Section 1. That Chapter 40-1 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

40-1-27.1 Aggravated cruelty as felony. No person may maliciously and intentionally cause the mistreatment, torture, or cruelty of any dog, cat, or horse resulting in serious injury, serious illness, or death of the dog, cat, or horse. A violation of this section is a class 6 felony. “Serious injury” means any injury that creates a substantial risk of death, leaves a dog, cat, or horse significantly disfigured, causes broken bones, or causes prolonged impairment of health. “Serious illness” means any illness or starvation that creates a substantial risk of death, leaves a dog, cat, or horse significantly disfigured, or causes prolonged impairment of health. “Torture” includes but is not limited to burning, poisoning, crushing, suffocating, impaling, drowning, blinding, skinning, fatal beating, fatal dragging, fatal exsanguination, disemboweling or dismemberment of a dog, cat or horse.

This section may not be construed to prohibit:

  1. Hunting, trapping, fishing, or any other activity regulated under Title 41;
  2. The marking of an animal for identification, and any other activity that is a usual and customary practice in production agriculture;
  3. Examination, testing, individual treatment, operation, or euthanasia performed by or under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian;
  4. Lawful medical or scientific research conducted at a public or private facility or laboratory by or under the direction of a qualified researcher; and
  5. Any lawful activity undertaken to protect a person’s life or property from a serious threat caused by a dog, cat, or horse.

Any person who violates this section may also, at the discretion of the court, be ordered to undergo psychological or psychiatric evaluation and obtain psychological counseling, including counseling in responsible pet ownership or animal cruelty prevention, for which the person shall bear any costs incurred; and not to own or possess a dog, cat, or horse for up to five years after the date of the sentencing.

This animal cruelty bill is better written than Rev. Rep. Scott Craig's make-your-school-an-unaccountable-armed-camp bill. It clearly focuses on the animals of concern—dogs, cats, and horses. You won't go to jail for branding your cattle, putting nightcrawlers on your hook, or cleaning your walleye.

The bill addresses both the inherent immorality of animal cruelty as well as the human side effects. Animal torture is linked to aggression and violence against humans... so arguably, by tightening penalties for animal cruelty and authorizing judges to send violators in for counseling, this bill might do more to keep children safe than the guns-in-school bill.

But, while Kosel reports 13 legislators have said they will co-sponsor this bill, no one has stepped up as prime sponsor.

Come on, folks: this bill does clear good and no harm. It recognizes a dangerous crime and does more to protect us from violent offenders. Legislators, you have until Monday, January 28, to file individual bills. One of you should pick up this bill and give it a chance to stand up to scrutiny in committee.