Ranchers Should be Worried about Animal Welfare Rules in New Senate Bill


Dear Editor,

I would like to share some information about why I oppose SB 203, currently before the Montana Legislature. 

SB203 would change our laws regarding seizure of animals, animal welfare hearings, and bond requirements should public expenses be incurred for animal boarding and care.  A big red flag went up when realized that Montana’s lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, (HSUS) was involved in the drafting and the promotion of SB203. 

First, private property should not be taken before actual criminal charges are proven.  Under SB203 if animals are seized, a bond would be set by the court, estimating the cost of thirty days of care.   If the bond is not paid, the seized animals are forfeited to the county for disposal as they see fit.  If the person is found Not Guilty and has paid the bond they will get the bond back; but if they are found Not Guilty and for some reason were unable to pay the bond, then their property could already have been disposed of.  There would be slim chance of return. 

SB 203 would allow transfer ownership of dogs, cats, chickens and horses without due process under the law, but the bill specifically excludes cattle, sheep, and swine.   If we allow this softening of property rights laws for pets and horses, then why not cattle?  Animals are property after all, whether a dog or a registered Angus bull.

Here is the reality:  if in the next session a new bill simply draws a line through Line 14 on Page 4, then suddenly this law will include cattle, swine and sheep.  Bills when passed are often modified and changed over the next few years.

All the rest of the bill refers to “animal(s)”.   The bill is truly set up to apply to animals…all animals. 

The County Attorneys that testified at the hearing repeatedly stated that SB 203 would save the counties money and place the cost on the guilty.  They did not speak about protecting property rights. While one can sympathize with the rare situations where the counties have found themselves paying for animal care, that does not justify the taking of property without due process.

SB203 was not requested by the Counties. The bill was requested by Senator Margaret MacDonald who has worked with Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) on numerous Animal rights bills. 

The Cascade County attorney’s office, testified at the hearing, “Animals are considered property under the law. If an individual’s property is seized they are entitled to due process under the law.  The existing law in place 27-1-434 serves as important purpose balancing property right interests, county costs and animal suffering. The existing law is okay. It works, but SB 203 is a tremendous improvement to the current existing law.”

If it works don’t change it.

As farmers and ranchers, we often think we don’t have to worry about Bills that are only about dogs and cats.   However the removal of one sentence from this bill today, or in a future legislative session, and suddenly this is ALL ABOUT US. 

This bill passed Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5 to 6 on Tuesday, February 21st.  It will be in front of the full Montana Senate possibly as early as Thursday.  I urge you to contact your Senator and tell them you oppose this bill.

Maggie Nutter

Maggie Nutter is a rancher from Sweetgrass near Montana’s northern border and currently serves as President of the Marias River Livestock Association.


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