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La Plata County commission opposes effort to expand animal cruelty laws to fish, livestock

Initiative seeks to extend life of ag animals, redefine some farm practices as ‘sex acts’
La Plata County commissioners voted Tuesday to oppose a proposed state ballot initiative about the treatment of animals out of concern for agricultural and veterinary industries. (Associated Press file)

La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday came out in opposition to a proposed ballot initiative that would overhaul the state’s animal cruelty laws by adding regulations and redefining certain animal treatment techniques as “sex acts.”

The citizens initiative, named “Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation” or PAUSE, would amend the state definition of livestock to include fish, define the natural lifespan for certain animals and classify common farm practices as sex acts.

Proponents of the initiative have to gather 124,632 valid voter signatures to get the initiative on the November 2022 ballot.

“This, in my opinion, will do a lot of damage in the agriculture sector, especially in the state and La Plata County,” said Matt Salka, county commissioner, during a board of county commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The proposed initiative would expand the legal conditions for cruelty to animals, a Class 1 misdemeanor, to all animals – not just dogs and cats. Another addition: Slaughtering livestock would count as cruelty to animals, unless the animal has lived one-quarter of its natural lifespan and the animal is slaughtered without needless suffering.

The proposal defines natural lifespan as: 20 years for a cow, eight years for a chicken, 10 years for a turkey, six years for a duck, 15 years for a pig, 15 years for sheep and six years for a rabbit.

It provided some exclusions for animals involved in research, wildlife nuisances, and wildlife and predator control.

The proposed initiative would also expand the definition of “sexual act with an animal” to include any intrusion or penetration, however slight, with an object or part of a person’s body into an animal’s anus or genitals, unless the act is done for the animal’s health.

Proponents of PAUSE, also called Initiative 16, say it would extend basic animal welfare rights granted to pets to all farmed animals. The initiative’s designated representatives are Alexander Sage of Broomfield and Brent Johannes of Boulder.

“After seeing with our own eyes, thousands of chickens on a Colorado organic free range farm left without food and severely abused, we knew there was a discrepancy between the public image and the reality of some farms,” says the Colorado PAUSE website. “The resulting ballot initiative seeks to legally require farms to treat their animals with some respect, and bring the reality closer to the idealistic image of what the average consumer hopes is the truth.”

Opponents say the initiative uses misleading language and would severely impact the livestock and veterinary industries.

Colorado Veterinary Medical Association said the initiative would make spaying and neutering animals a criminal offense, along with other common veterinary medical surgeries.

Artificial insemination of dogs, horses and livestock would be considered bestiality, as would pregnancy checking, semen collection and fertility testing.

The initiative would also affect the quality of meat products because most animals are slaughtered before they have lived one-quarter of their natural lifespan, as defined by the initiative.

“While we can all support the title of the initiative, the text as written has far-reaching negative effects,” said county staff members in a presentation Tuesday. “The economic impact of this increased lifespan to farmers and ranchers would be devastating to Colorado producers.”

Commissioners Clyde Church and Salka voted to oppose the PAUSE initiative. Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton was absent from the meeting but said she supported the commission’s decision in an email to The Durango Herald.

“I believe it is an extreme measure that goes far beyond stopping animal cruelty,” Porter-Norton said. “It will hurt our livestock producers and many other types of businesses as well. It is too extreme, and I hope the measure doesn't make it on the ballot.”

smullane@durangoherald.com

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