Joint Ag Committee discusses animal welfare statutesWritten by Christy Hemken
Dubois – How the state of Wyoming will handle animal welfare in statute was among the topics discussed at the April 19-20 meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee in Dubois.
Because of the way other states have been “bombarded” with animals rights groups that have come in and written legislation on how animal welfare issues should be handled, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) believes Wyoming should put proactive measures in place should those groups ever show up in the Cowboy State.
“The WLSB and the industry in Wyoming agree that we need to be proactive to develop something we can live with here, not only to protect animals but also animal owners and the rights of animal owners,” Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan told the committee. “We need to do something in Wyoming that fits Wyoming.”
A meeting hosted by the WLSB April 1 focused on animal welfare and was attended by people involved with both livestock and companion animals, as well as representatives from the County Commissioners Association, the Wyoming Municipalities Association and some animal shelters.
“We do have some animal welfare statutes, but in my opinion they don’t go far enough to elucidate what some of the implications of animal cruelty would be,” said Logan, adding some opposition from animal rightists also indicates Wyoming’s statutes don’t go far enough. In addition, he said Wyoming’s livestock industry doesn’t feel the statutes go far enough to protect the state’s livestock interests from animal rightists.
The current language in Chapter 29 is identical to what Nebraska has, and it includes in the definition of “cruelty” the definition of “mistreat,” which includes “to knowingly and intentionally kill, maim or otherwise inflict harm upon any animal.”
Logan said WLSB members have concern over having the word “kill” in the definition.
He also said the state needs to determine how companion animal welfare will be dealt with, as far as who will govern and oversee it, whether it be the WLSB, county commissioners or municipalities.
“Everybody that spoke up at the meeting agreed companion animal welfare should remain under control of the State Vet and WLSB,” said Logan. “The Livestock Board as a whole still does have heartburn with that and we have not solved that issue.”
He said the Board is comfortable with livestock and even dogs and cats, but when getting into more rare animals or reptiles it becomes hesitant.
Representative Sue Wallis commented that she’s concerned if the WLSB does give up authority over all animals in the state, Wyoming would end up with a companion animal group that might tend toward giving animals rights they should not have – such as legal representation.
“My feeling is the best thing to do is keep that authority and oversight in the livestock industry, but perhaps with some sort of advisory body focused on companion animals,” she suggested.
Scott Zimmerman of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union indicated that if oversight of companion animals was left under the WLSB instead of creating a new agency, that would leave more money left over for everybody. “If we keep it under an umbrella agency, the funding is a lot greater,” he said.
Representative Matt Teeters said he wanted to make sure statute clearly states that animals are private property. “I’m concerned with language that would prohibit somebody from being able to kill an animal,” he said. “That can be construed in all kinds of ways and, in my opinion, negate the ability to control one’s own private property.”
“I have an old dog, and when the time comes I’m going to be the one to put her down,” said Representative Mike Gilmore. “I’m doing the right thing in my mind, and that’s my dog and I don’t want the state in any way to negate that ability. It’s a rights issue, and I can see how this can get out of control.”
“I don’t want another agency, and I don’t want a subagency,” said Senator Eli Bebout, cautioning the WLSB to move slowly. “We haven’t already heard a lot of issues with this, and if we over-legislate this we’ll have a mess.”
In the end, Committee Co-Chairman Senator Gerry Geis directed the WLSB, counties and municipalities to work together over the summer to come up with a statute that would protect state, city and county interests. It will be brought back for consideration as an interim bill in the committee’s October 4-5 meeting in Buffalo.