Vague animal cruelty laws could protect Colorado prairie dog


Mar 11, 2001
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Vague animal cruelty codes in cities protect prairie dogs.

Katy Human, Boulder Camera Staff Writer


Animal rights activist Dave Crawford says he hopes to use the vagueness in various cities' animal cruelty codes to punish companies and individuals for killing prairie dogs.

The codes are generally meant to protect pets from mistreatment, but the imprecise language in several Boulder County cities' laws may make them applicable to wild creatures as well, he said, and several legal experts agreed.

Late last month, Toby and Karen Norback of Lafayette asked the City Council to uphold the word of the law regarding animal cruelty: The city's code prohibits the mistreatment of any "living dumb creature."

The Norbacks argued that that includes prairie dogs. They asked police to charge a landowner at South Boulder Road and 120th Street with animal cruelty after construction workers scraped 6 to 8 inches of dirt from the site, which contained a prairie dog town.

Police officers said they could find no evidence that prairie dogs were killed, injured or tortured at the site, so the Norbacks' case was dropped. But the legal principal may still apply, said Crawford, a member of Rocky Mountain Animal Defense.

Although the city of Boulder's municipal code explicitly forbids the killing of prairie dogs, it has long been considered legal to kill them in other parts of the state.

"Good for Karen and Toby for being creative and pushing this a little further than it has been pushed before," Crawford said.

A quick look at some of the laws reveals inexact language:

Louisville municipal code prevents cruelty to "any animal," does not define the word animal and does not exclude rodents. The law refers to "needless" and "unnecessary" cruelty, qualifications that could be used by developers should a prairie dog cruelty case ever make it to court, said Sam White, city attorney for Louisville.

White said that as far as he knew, no one has ever invoked the city animal cruelty code to protect prairie dogs.

Longmont and Erie code, too, outlaws cruelty to animals and fails to define "animal."

In Broomfield , the law is more precise: Animals may not be mistreated, and animal means "any living creature, domesticated or wild, other than a human being."

"That's quite inclusive," Crawford said.

The activist said he would use any legal tool available to him, including the wording of such ordinances, to prevent cruelty to prairie dogs.

"It's not a question of what the intent was, it's the language it's written in," he said. "If you do have an intent, you better make sure your language represents that."

Anna Schofield, an attorney with the city of Boulder, said that unless various cities' codes excluded rodents, it might even be technically illegal to kill mice.

But it would be a fairly straightforward "housekeeping issue" for a city council to realize that a code wasn't performing as intended and correct it, she said.

Crawford said he understands that but still hopes the situation will make city officials and residents consider the uneven application of cruelty standards to some animals and not others.

"Death by bulldozer is pretty brutal," he said, referring to the way some development companies plow over prairie dog towns to make way for a new building.

Crawford said he and the Norbacks are pursuing their cruelty case in Lafayette. They have asked the police to dig into the disturbed soil for what they expect to be clear evidence of cruelty: dead prairie dogs.

"Even though the city claims there was no evidence, of course, the evidence is buried," Karen Norback said.

Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the state Division of Wildlife, said he expects that if a case ever came to court, animal rights activists would have no standing.

People in Colorado are allowed to kill "destructive rodents," including prairie dogs, by state law, which trumps municipal law.

The city of Boulder avoided conflict with the state by adopting a policy that allows prairie dog extermination only after 15 months, during which developers must try to relocate prairie dogs.

Contact Katy Human at (303) 473-1364 or


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Jan 22, 2002
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wow, that really sucks. I hope they resolve that quick before they get over run by rodents...
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