Commissioners take a stand against proposed Ballot Initiative 16

PAUSE Act would extend animal abuse laws from pets to farmed animals

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

In an unusual move, commissioners have come out against a citizen-led ballot initiative before it makes its way to the ballot. Citing that Ballot Initiative 16 was well intentioned but has over-reached and become untenable for ranchers, Gunnison County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday, June 1, vocalizing their opposition to it.

The initiative, also known as Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation (PAUSE) campaign, is filed for the 2022 election, and would extend current animal abuse laws to farmed animals as well. According to the Colorado PAUSE website, the amended statutes would extend the same laws already written for dogs and cats to cattle, chickens, pigs, horses and other farm animals. Agricultural animals are currently exempt from the animal cruelty section of the Colorado Revised Statutes.

“The focus of the campaign is to define animal abuse for farmed animals; while allowing for animal agriculture to exist,” the campaign states. The initiative specifies that slaughtering livestock with “accepted agricultural animal husbandry practices” would be allowed if the animal has reached adulthood, or lived one-quarter of its natural lifespan based on species, breed and type of animal, and “is slaughtered in such a way that it does not needlessly suffer.”

Commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck said that the proposal would cripple animal husbandry, a cornerstone of Gunnison County’s cultural heritage. “While it started out as well-intentioned,” said Houck, “it has really expanded into something untenable.” The impacts of this to Gunnison County, to the Western Slope and to all of Colorado, he warned, could be disastrous.

“I think it is important that we stand by our ranchers… They are good stewards of livestock and of the landscape; and it is important to support them as well,” he said.

The PAUSE initiative includes language suggesting that artificial insemination might be interpreted as a “sexual act with an animal” and be considered animal cruelty, and commissioner Liz Smith wanted to clarify that this reach could go as far as criminalizing cats and dogs being spayed or neutered as well.

“There is some concern that it might,” replied Houck. “This is loaded with lots of pieces that don’t necessarily support some of the original intentions.”

Houck said in his time as commissioner, this was the first time he could recall coming out against something before it was on the ballot.

“But I think it’s important to be on the record and say where we stand,” he concluded.

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