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A grassroots effort by an animal rights group to enact tougher animal cruelty laws has failed to collect enough signatures to put the question to voters in November.

The group called Idaho 1 of 3 — named because Idaho had been among the three states without felony animal cruelty laws — worked for 10 months on a shoestring budget of less than $5,000 to gather the 47,500 signatures necessary to trigger a ballot initiative. More than 700 people across Idaho volunteered to help the cause.

But Virginia Hemingway, the group’s organizer, said the effort came up short. As of Monday’s deadline, the group had collected only about 30,000 signatures, according to a story published Tuesday by theIdaho Statesman.

Among other things, the initiative would have asked voters to make cases of animal torture a felony on first offense.

Despite the ballot initiative’s failure, the mere threat of it had an effect, spurring lawmakers and the ag industry to pass a tougher animal cruelty bill during the Legislature.

Lawmakers, with the support of the Idaho Cattlemen’s Association, passed the state’s first felony animal cruelty legislation, leaving the South Dakota and North Dakota as the only states without a felony cruelty law.

Under the new law, three animal cruelty convictions in 15 years makes the third offense a felony. Prosecutors can also press felony charges for offenders accused of organizing cockfights accompanied by drugs and betting. The new law exempts normal animal production practices such as branding and castration.

But Hemingway and other animal rights groups say Idaho’s penalties still are too weak, particularly in cases involving torture. Animal rights advocates also complain that more common forms of abuse, such as repeated neglect, still cannot be charged as felonies in Idaho.

The group’s leaders already are considering another campaign.

“If that’s what it takes, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Tony Mangan, a 73-year-old retiree in Spirit Lake who co-founded the group with Hemingway.

Not all animal rights groups are on board for another initiative just yet, however.

Lisa Kauffman, Idaho state director for the Humane Society of the United States, had said her national group would fund a multimillion-dollar ballot initiative campaign and hire paid staff to gather signatures if this year’s initiative failed.

But Kauffman prefers to pursue the group’s goals through the Legislature.

News Link:-http://www.argusleader.com/viewart/20120502/NEWS/305020043/Idaho-leaves-S-D-N-D-alone-without-felony-animal-cruelty