Remember last year's animal cruelty bill, the proposal to make malicious mistreatment of companion animals a felony? It's coming back, bigger, better, and with support from all corners of the issue.

State veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven announced yesterday that the animal welfare activists who brought us last year's bill have worked with state officials and agri-business lobbyists to draft a new bill that (according to an early draft released by South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together)...

  1. Makes malicious mistreatment of any non-human vertebrate a Class 6 felony (last year's bill covered only dogs, cats, and horses);
  2. Exempts normal practices in agriculture, hunting, fishing, and other legal business and animal-control activities from these provisions (last year's bill did the same thing);
  3. Expands the ban on dog fighting to protect all animals from such exploitation (last year's bill didn't mention such barbarism.

The formal draft isn't in the hopper yet, but if passed as drafted, this bill would end South Dakota's embarrassing status as the only state not to treat animal torturers as felons.

Last year's animal cruelty bill raised all sorts of counterfactual corporate protest, with agribusiness opponents personally attacking SDFACT members Shari Kosel, Sara Parker, and others as fronts for the Humane Society of the United States bent on destroying South Dakota agriculture. When Dr. Oedekoven arranged the August meeting among SDFACT, the South Dakota Animal Control Association, state’s attorneys, sheriffs, veterinarians, livestock groups and pet breeders to discuss animal cruelty, the GOP spin machine said HSUS was again pushing its agenda, cast aspersions on Kosel and company, and urged everyone else at the table not to trust SDFACT.

But SDFACT persevered. Kosel and Parker explained again that SDFACT members are real South Dakotans with real concerns based on real experiences with animal cruelty. Kosel and Parker explained that they have no anti-agriculture agenda ("I'm not going to tell a farmer how to do his job," Kosel said in an interview with me yesterday).

Given the chance to talk face to face with the people they maligned last winter, the agri-business lobby realized they were wrong. Instead of peddling their manufactured hysteria, they are acknowledging that they have common cause with their fellow South Dakotans in protecting animals from vicious abuse. They are backing a stronger bill than what Kosel put forward last year because Kosel was right.

As South Dakota Farm Bureau lobbyist Mike Held said yesterday, "Battling that same argument every year in the legislative session gets old after a while." Indeed, corporate propaganda does get old. I am heartened to see the ag lobby will drop this particular false line of attack on fellow South Dakotans and support doing what's right for our four-legged friends.