The last state in the union to make animal cruelty a felony now appears serious about getting on the boards. The South Dakota Legislature, which was gaveled into session on Monday, is again being asked to reform state animal abuse laws. This time, however, a year of work by the state’s livestock industry and animal-welfare groups has put the new law within reach, according to State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven. South Dakota was recently called out by the Humane Society of the United States for having the weakest animal cruelty laws in the country, with no offense to animals rising above a misdemeanor. But now Senate Bill (SB) 46 has been introduced at the request of the South Dakota Animal Industry Board to completely rewrite the state’s animal-welfare law and establish a felony penalty for the most egregious acts of animal cruelty. In its recent rankings, HSUS listed South Dakota’s animal-protection laws as “dead last” among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The state’s existing law makes it possible to charge a felony only for owning dogs for the purpose of fighting them, but not for animal cruelty. SB 46 includes legal definitions for what it means to “mistreat” and “neglect” animals. Anyone who “may neglect, abandon, or mistreat” an animal could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor under the proposed new law. Anyone who subjects an animal to cruelty may be charged with a Class 6 felony. Conviction would carry a two-year term in state prison and a fine of up to $4,000. SB 46 includes a provision for “humane killing,” scientific research following established protocols, and “usual and customary” livestock practices. Current restrictions on dog fighting would be expanded to include all animal fighting. Law enforcement officers investigating sport or exhibition animal fighting could enter properties where it is occurring without a warrant, nor would a warrant be required where a severe animal injury is involved. SB 46 also includes a mechanism for county animal control officers to work with local nonprofit animal-welfare groups. The seven-member SD Animal Industry Board includes representatives of cattle and pork producers, veterinarians, auction owners/operators, sheep growers, dairy producers and livestock feeders. The board has police powers over the state’s livestock. It has worked with South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together (SD FACT), which supports SB 46 as now drafted. Placing food animals in pain or extended periods of discomfort makes them more likely to become sick or diseased, which is why humane animal treatment is a food safety topic.