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A Defining Time

Written by Dennis Sun
        As you read in last week’s Roundup, the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee of the Wyoming Legislature is discussing Wyoming’s animal welfare statutes.
        As anyone who owns, raises, trades or trains livestock knows, we all have a responsibility to do it right. Therein lies the problem. Those of us who were raised around livestock in Wyoming know the right way to treat animals and how to care for them. Some in our state consider that knowledge a value to be passed on to future generations. In today’s more modern times we have too many people in Wyoming who own livestock, but really have no idea how to care for them.
    Here in Wyoming I don’t think most of the abuse is intentional, but instead a lack of knowledge about livestock. It’s a lack of education, a misunderstanding of the resources and their limitations and oftentimes a desire to own more animals than they’re able to care for. It’s lessons we in agriculture learned on an every-day-basis growing up. So, how do we as a society deal with that? More laws, more law enforcement or more government restrictions, is that the answer?
    To start with we need to better define the roles of the Wyoming Livestock Board. As statute reads, the agency is responsible for “all dumb animals.” I think we can all agree the agency’s most appropriate role relates to livestock. Pet stores and homes overrun with dogs and cats need to fall under the jurisdiction of a different agency or local government.
    As we approach this conversation I think we need to ensure the state’s laws protect our ability to ranch. We also need to make sure there are consequences for those who truly are abusing and neglecting animals and establish such actions as unacceptable in this state.
    Turning an eye toward the national scene, animal welfare is once again at the forefront. If the footage of improper animal treatment at a Chino, Calif. packing plant wasn’t enough, on May 7 the Humane Society released a second video, this time taking aim at livestock market facilities. When the Chino video was mentioned at the early February Cattle Industry Convention in Reno, Nev. the crowd booed. I suspect this latest video, showing some who aren’t doing the best they can to represent our industry, will receive the same reaction from cattlemen. In HSUS’s May 7 statements the group called its recent focus on the livestock sector an ongoing project.
    It would be easy for us to just ignore the subject of animal welfare, but we’d be doing so at the risk of letting anti-agriculture groups enter our state and dominate the discussion. It’s already likely their actions will result in troublesome discussions for agriculture on the national scene. It would be best if we can address this issue here at home without entering the realm of additional federal regulation. We need to keep this a state issue, not a national issue.
Dennis