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Friday, April 19, 2024


May 31, 2001 – The territory's animals had politicians on their side Wednesday as a bill protecting their rights and making it a felony to abuse them cleared a major hurdle with passage by the Senate's Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, would make first-degree animal abuse a felony punishable by a fine of not less than $1,000 and up to five years in jail.
First-degree abuse includes causing of physical injury, unnecessarily killing an animal, disposing of a live animal in a garbage bin or at a garbage disposal site, neglect or abandonment, poisoning, cropping of an animal's ears or tail by anyone other than a licensened veterinarian, use of traps, training animals to fight, confining an animal in a vehicle without adequate ventilation, and committing a hit and run. The bill allows cockfighting.
The bill makes second-degree animal neglect a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 100 hours of community service. It defines second-degree neglect as failing to give an animal adequate care.
The bill also protects a person who provides care for a confined animal that has been left without food or water.
The bill surfaced twice in the 23rd Legislature, both times being "held in committee" — in other words, forgotten — despite wide community support for the measure. Animal rights advocates gathered more than 3,000 signatures in support of the bill and voiced their concerns at hearings on both St. Thomas and St. Croix last year.
There has been no shortage of incidents to cause them concern. In one of the most horrifying, a cat was set on fire and hung on clothesline on St. John in 1999.
Recently a starving and infection-wracked horse that had been abandoned in a field by Roy L. Schneider Hospital was rescued from youngsters who were beating and riding the animal. The animal was found to be a former race horse and is now privately owned and healthy. But not all abused and neglected animals are that lucky.
Hubert Brumant, St. Thomas Humane Society manager, an avid advocate of the bill, has to deal with animal abuse on a daily basis, with no law enforcement to speak of. One of the worst cases last year, he said, was abandonment where the owner had simply left three dogs tied to ropes with no food or water, and all three died.
Animal activitist Christine O 'Keefe, a retired Humane Society board member, organized a campaign last year for the members of the community to fax their senators with animal concerns. O'Keefe noted at the time, "It's not just about the animals, either. It's been proven that most mass murderers started out abusing animals before they moved on to humans."
This was a concern raised by Donastorg at Wednesday's committee meeting as he asked his colleagues to support the bill. "If this bill can help curb other violent acts, it's worthy of your support," he said, also noting the petitions bearing 3,000 signatures.
The bill now goes the Rules Committee. If approved there, it will move the full Senate for a final vote. Co-sponsors of the measure are Sens. Lorraine Berry, Carlton Dowe, Emmett Hansen II and Celestino A. White Sr.

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