BOISE -- Gov. C.L. Butch Otter has approved a bill creating felony animal cruelty penalties in Idaho for the first time.

The plan Otter signed into law this week makes a third animal cruelty conviction in 15 years a felony, leaving the Dakotas as the only states without a felony animal brutality measure.

Organizing cockfights could also trigger felony charges if the events are accompanied by drugs and gambling.

Cockfighting occurs throughout Idaho, said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, the Executive Director for the Idaho Humane Society. Very rarely do we get a glimpse into this world , however, because this is a secretive subculture and this is very hidden from view.

The Canyon County Sheriff's Office hopes the new law will help them crack down on crime.

Perhaps something will actually be accomplished rather than just breaking up a big party where people are fighting chickens and sending them on their way that they'll know there is a price to pay for doing it, said Lt. William Adams.

The legislation has been long sought after by animal rights activists and was spurred by their attempts to put an initiative before voters calling for much stiffer cruelty penalties.

Dr. Rosenthal wonders if the new law is harsh enough. It is difficult to conceive of too many cases where we are going to have three convictions in 15 years, said Rosenthal.

That is just something probably time will tell to see how many violators actually make it to the point where they are charged felony on these instances, said Lt. Adams.

The law exempts normal animal production practices -- such as branding and castration -- which has earned it support from the livestock industry.

It's among a number of bills Otter has signed this week.

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