The Black Hills woman who led the fight to make animal cruelty a felony in South Dakota has won some national recognition. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has named Shari Crouch Kosel one of America's Top Ten Animal Defenders:

Shari Crouch Kosel and friend (photo from ALDF)

Shari Crouch Kosel and friend (photo from ALDF)

Shari Crouch Kosel is the co-founder and chair of South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together (SDFACT). In 2008, Shari’s neighbor’s dog was tortured and murdered, which inspired Shari to begin a crusade for a felony penalty for animal cruelty at the state level. Years of letter writing, media outreach, and contacting legislators and law enforcement led to connections with advocates Sara Parker, Heidi Hunter, and Darci Adams. Together, they formed SDFACT, a small, grassroots nonprofit, whose sole mission was to pass felony-level penalties for animal cruelty.

In 2013, SDFACT worked with the Senate Agriculture Committee, the state veterinarian, and other agricultural entities. Months of meetings and passionate discussions in 2014 led to an agreement: a felony bill was born. Ultimately, it gained wide support from all entities in the state. In large part thanks to Shari’s dedication and hard work, in 2014 South Dakota became the 50th and final state to make malicious animal cruelty a felony [link added; Animal Legal Defense Fund, profile of Shari Kosel, downloaded 2015.02.25].

Kosel is not out there advocating for voting rights for dogs. Neither are the other members of ALDF's Top Ten Animal Defenders. Far from fringe activists, the majority of the honorees are law enforcement officials, good public officials out there arresting and prosecuting animal abusers whose cruelty toward weaker four-leggeds demonstrates dangerous anti-social inclinations.

Congratulations, Shari! Keep up the good work!

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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.

3 comments

Shari Kosel marched against a blizzard of Big Ag baloney last winter when she and fellow South Dakotans fighting animal cruelty brought Senate Bill 171 to the 2013 Legislature. This bill would have upped the penalty for the torture and killing of dogs, cats, and horses. Incredibly, Big Ag treated this sensible protection against sociopaths as an assault on industrial agriculture promulgated by out-of-state animal rights extremists. That snow job worked, and SB 171 failed in committee.

Yet Kosel and friends continue their efforts, and they are getting some press. The Tri-State Neighbor notes that state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoeven plans to meet with Kosel to talk about South Dakota's animal cruelty laws and how we might improve them.

Alas, the TSN report gets one fact wrong and incorrectly fans the flames of anti-HSUS paranoia:

Many legislators and others said they thought the group was linked to and financed by the Humane Society of United States (HSUS), which isn’t exactly popular among the state’s agricultural community and politicians.

Kosel said her group was offered money by HSUS but refused it.

She said it is a group of South Dakotans who simply want better protections for companion animals [Barry Amundson, "S.D. Meeting Planned on Possible Animal Cruelty Laws," Tri-State Neighbor, 2013.04.18].

Bzzzzt! Sorry, Neighbor, that's incorrect. Kosel tells me she said no such thing. Kosel says the Humane Society of the United States has not offered her and her group any money. Consistent with her previous public comments, Kosel maintains that she and her fellow animal defenders are 100% South Dakotan, with no connection to national groups. Kosel says she told Amundson that the Animal Legal Defense Fund has offered to do phone surveys to spread the word about animal cruelty, but that such an effort would happen independent of SDFACT.

Maybe someday we'll be able to discuss the substance of SDFACT's animal protection proposals without invoking the bogeymen of the Big Ag lobby. But as long as that rabid industry lobby keeps infecting our legislators with misconceptions to stop good policy, we'll have to keep talking about and refuting those misconceptions.

Update 09:48 MDT: The reference to HSUS offering SDFACT money has been stricken from the Amundson article.

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My Lead neighbor Shari Kosel is pushing for South Dakota to toughen its animal cruelty laws. According to a post on her new blog, South and North Dakota are the only two states in the Union that do not make cruelty to companion animals a felony. The only felony I see codified in our animal cruelty chapter is the Class 6 felony we apply to dog fighting. (It's a misdemeanor just to be present at a dog fight.)

Kosel has sent out a questionnaire to legislators and candidates to gauge their interest in making animal cruelty a felony. She's likely hoping for a better response from legislators than previous efforts have garnered. Kosel promoted a tougher animal cruelty laws during the 2010 Legislative session, but that bill targeting commercial dog breeding operations (2010 HB 1146) incurred a quick response from the pet industry and farm interests. The House Ag and Natural Resources committee quickly and unanimously killed the bill.

There's no excuse for torturing a helpless animal. But I'm curious: does animal cruelty warrant a felony punishment?

24 comments

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