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Boise, Idaho • Animal lovers across the state are gathering signatures in hopes that voters will decide to make animal cruelty a felony in 2012.

Idaho is one of just three states that don't have felony penalties for the most extreme animal cruelty cases, nor for repeat offenders, said Virginia Hemingway, founder of Stop Torturing Our Pets.

Hemingway's group, along with other animal welfare groups across the state, are working together to try to gather more than 47,000 signatures by next April to get their initiative on the ballot, The Idaho Statesman reported.

Jeff Rosenthal, director of the Idaho Humane Society, said the state's largest animal welfare group supports the initiative and will do what it can to help.

"The vast majority of Idahoans want to see a felony animal cruelty law," Rosenthal said.

The animal welfare groups are working together under an umbrella group called Idaho 1 of 3. The proposed new law would define animal torture, increase misdemeanor fines to $400 for a first offense (compared to the current $100 fine) and $600 for a second offense (compared to $200). It would also make a person's third animal cruelty conviction in a 15-year period a felony, punishable by between six months and three years in prison and up to a $9,000 fine.

"The people we're really after are the repeat offenders," Hemingway said.

The Idaho Humane Society has been working with lawmakers to get a felony animal cruelty law on the books for a decade, but the effort has never made it through the Legislature.

Successful initiatives often have professional staff and a budget of $1 million or more, said Rosenthal, and he encouraged Hemingway to spend more time planning the effort.

Besides Idaho, neither North Dakota nor South Dakota has felony animal cruelty penalties.

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