The actions of the Idaho Legislature will soon impact every voter in our state. You may ask: "How is this possible?" You will find the answer through the disappointing tale which follows.
In June of 2011 a newly formed organization, Idaho 1 of 3, was formed. The group's purpose was to bring to the attention of the citizens of our state the fact that we are one of three states in the Union which does not have serious penalties for animal abuse. Having grown up in a country of strong-minded responsible people, we knew that if you simply pointed out a problem without offering a solution, it would be determined that you were just whining. Having brought our solution to the Legislature before forming Idaho 1 of 3, and having had it dismissed out of hand, we decided to attempt to gather enough signatures from the voting public to have our solution placed on the 2012 ballot. Rescue groups, animal hospitals, pet shops and individuals rallied to the cause, and enthusiastically began to gather signatures. The early stages of the process were stunning in our realization that most citizens had no idea that animal abuse is merely a misdemeanor in Idaho; that law enforcement does not care to pursue those issues; and that prosecutors do everything they can to avoid prosecuting any case.
The process of gathering signatures is among the single most difficult things a group can undertake. As an example, we often found that a page containing 20 signatures would yield as few as seven acceptable signatures. Most were rejected because the address of the voter was not identical to the address under which they had first registered, even though they were no doubt living in the same voting district. Another equally picayune reason was because someone put a date on the zip code line. Everything a controlling Legislature could do to prevent voters from having any influence of directing the bureaucracy in forming reasonable laws, was placed in our path and for that matter in the path of any group of average volunteers trying to steer the ship.
The Legislature invited the Cattlemen's and Wool Growers' Associations to give their input in order to form made-to-order "new laws with felony penalties." The result was that Sen. Steve Vick and others on the Agriculture Committee created a completely toothless bill, and put it on the fast track to become law. Suffice it to say that the Bill S1303 in reality is worse than the existing weak misdemeanor laws. Among the things that went into this bill to which the House members were complicit, was to eliminate all stock animals kept by their owners as pets from it. Consequently, the abuse of horses, llamas, goats, alpacas etc., would not be included under the new abuse law. What the bill refers to as "companion animals" would fall under the toothless law, but since it includes the word "felony," the Legislature can claim success at "changing the law," even though there are no mandatory fines or penalties. The magic word "felony" will likely never be used or considered since no known case has been tried in the past several years.
The final coup achieved by the Legislature in this matter will be disbandment of Panhandle Equine Rescue, Inc., an organization which has saved dozens of equines from abuse, starvation and abandonment. The leadership and members of Panhandle Equine Rescue, Inc. unlike the "lawmakers," are people of conscience, and have concluded that since the law enforcement agency under the current sheriffs and prosecutors in almost every county are no longer doing their job of protecting abused animals. It would be deceitful for Panhandle Equine Rescue, Inc. to continue to accept assistance from its generous supporters, who each year donate money, hay, feed, medicine and blankets to this all-volunteer, nonprofit organization which rescues abused equines. Because integral elements of rescue are required from the sheriff who must seize the abused animals, and from the district attorney who must pursue prosecution under the law, it is clear that the group will not be and has not been afforded the required assistance because of weak and ineffective laws. During 2011, not a single horse was rescued because of the current laws and refusal of participation by our elected officials. We did use our resources to help people who could no longer keep their horses or those who were out of work and legitimately needed hay and assistance in finding homes that were safe and permanent. Since the state and counties will no longer do their job, the least we can do is not deceive the public, as do the lawmakers. Essentially, we too would not be doing the job we claim to do or more to the point the job our supporters believe we are doing - just like the sheriffs, prosecutors and of course the legislators and governor.
In the spirit of not presenting a problem without offering what we think would be the perfect solution, we suggest that all citizens who wish to see positive change in our state's way of doing its business vote out everyone who is an incumbent and who signed onto the new Bill S1303, including the governor, and replace them with lawmakers who can recognize the will of the people, and confront the horrific animal abuse issue that is tearing at the very fabric of our society. We have become well-versed in the negative behavior of our legislators and will begin to scout for and endorse men and women of integrity who have all of our best interests at heart. 2012 can truly be a banner year for our state, our society and our country and perhaps see the resurrection of Panhandle Equine Rescue, Inc. The future of Idaho's integrity is in the hands of you and the 30,000+ citizens who stepped up to affix their names in support of the Idaho 1 of 3 Initiative.
Tony Mangan is president of Panhandle Equine Rescue.