Colorado Supreme Court Rejects Animal Cruelty Initiative That Farmers And Ranchers Opposed

Wolves Steamboat Rancher Jay Fetcher
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Jay Fetcher raises cattle in a valley outside Steamboat Springs, Colo., far from the population centers in Denver and its suburbs. He doesn’t support the ballot initiative even though it includes plans to pay for any livestock lost to the wolves.

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday rejected a ballot initiative that would have extended the state’s animal cruelty laws to cover livestock and poultry. But proponents of the change still have time to try again.

Currently, the state’s animal cruelty law has an exception for animals raised on farms and ranches, as long as their owners follow “accepted animal husbandry practices.” 

The people behind the initiative, Alexander Sage and Brent Johannes, wanted to ask voters to change that law. Their proposal would have added cows, pigs, chicken and other farmed animals to the law, which was written to cover dogs and cats. It also would have banned the slaughter of livestock unless the animals had lived for “one quarter of their natural lifespan.”

Supporters won approval for the ballot language this spring from the Title Board, allowing them to start gathering voters’ signatures to place their question on the November 2022 ballot. They have named their effort PAUSE — Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation.

Ranching industry welcomed the decision

But opponents — including representatives of farms and ranches — took the fight to the Colorado Supreme Court, where they successfully blocked the initiative. The court found that the initiative was too far-reaching. The initiative would have also expanded the law against sexual acts with animals, but the court found that change “strays into a second subject by addressing the bodily integrity of all animals, not just livestock," potentially confusing voters.

The Farm Bureau of Colorado celebrated the victory. “This sends a strong message to the supporters of this measure and anyone else who is interested in a responsible ballot initiative process,” said Carlyle Currier, a rancher from Molina and president of the organization, in a written statement. “This process has been abused for far too long, and this is yet another reminder that ambiguous language, bait-and-switch tactics, and attempts to conceal the real-world results of ballot initiatives are bad for our state and will not be allowed to stand."

PAUSE said the idea was meant to give animals basic protections. “If enacted, the initiative would simply extend the most basic animal welfare rights that are granted to pets to all farmed animals. While the animal is alive, it must not be abandoned, abused, neglected, mistreated or sexually assaulted,” the group wrote on its website. 

PAUSE organizers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.