South Dakota is the only state in the country that doesn't have felony animal cruelty laws in place. But that could change following South Dakota's legislative session - which begins this week.
It has taken years of discussion but legislation is in the works that would make animal cruelty a felony that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven worked with representatives from livestock groups and animal welfare organizations to write the bill, and is happy with how it stands.
"Over the year we held several of those meetings, and have come to I think a pretty good agreement in this bill that serves the interest of those who feel like we need a little bit stiffer penalties and still protects the interest of animal agriculture in particular, but also other animal industries in the state," Oedekoven said.
Farm animals owned commercially are not included in the legislation as long as the owners follow standard livestock-raising practices.
"Tail docking for example or castration, those types of things, that's the point of the bill that helps to clarify for animal agriculture that those practices which they standardly use are not to be misinterpreted as animal cruelty," Oedekoven said.
Oedekoven says similar bills have been rejected in the past because of conflicts with existing livestock laws. The state veterinarian says a new law may not lead to a lot of arrests.
"We really do have good treatment of animals in our state. Really don't see a lot of cases of animal cruelty or abuse in our state," Oedekoven said.
But he says it's time for South Dakota to take a stand against animal abuse.