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HomeNewsArchivesANIMAL BILL'S FATE A STICKLER FOR RULES

ANIMAL BILL'S FATE A STICKLER FOR RULES

Aug. 7, 2001 – Although the animal anti-cruelty bill which has been around since the 23rd Legislature appears to have fallen victim to politics, its prime sponsor and a co-sponsor are quick to deny that the charge applies to them.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the bill's prime sponsor, and Carlton Dowe, a co-sponsor, say, separately, that if it were up to them, the bill would be out of the Rules Committee by now and on its way to the full Senate for a deciding vote. Dowe chairs the committee.
The bill received strong endorsement in July from the police K-9 Corps of the St. Thomas-St. John district. It has the backing of the St. Thomas Humane Society, the St. Croix Animal Shelter and the Animal Care Center of St. John, as well as more than 3,000 animal rights advocates who have signed a petition of support.
The legislation has bounced from committee to committee in the 23rd and 24th Legislatures. It made its way in June from approval in the Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee to the Rules Committee, the last stop before a full Senate deciding vote.
At a June Rules meeting, the bill was held in committee by a 4-2 vote on a motion by Sen. Adelbert Bryan, an outspoken opponent of the measure, which he has labeled "a farce." Voting with Bryan for his motion were Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr., who also is one of the bill's co-sponsors. Dowe and Donald "Ducks" Cole voted against the motion.
The measure's other co-sponsors are Sens. Lorraine Berry and Emmett Hansen II.
Donastorg wrote to Dowe on Monday asking that the bill be put on the next Rules Committee meeting agenda. He stated in the letter that it "seems the bill is only being held for political reasons … "
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Dowe said Tuesday. "I voted to get it out of committee. If it had been up to Cole and me, it would be out of Rules now."
Dowe said he intends to ask Bryan to put his objections into writing or to prepare an amendment to the bill to address them. Dowe said he couldn't immediately set a date for the bill to be heard, but he added, "At this point, we have no bills pending before the Rules Committee."
The K-9 officers wrote to Dowe in July offering to come before the committee and give testify based on eyewitness accounts to the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. Their letter stated that they deal with the matter on a "daily basis."
Sgt. Elton Grant, K-9 Corps chief, said Tuesday, "We see dogs mistreated by owners who don't want them. We see them tied up under trees where they haven't been fed in weeks, or starved for fighting purposes." Grant said he sees a definite connection between the people who abuse animals and people who abuse people. "There is a connection you see in the way they treat their dogs," he said.
The bill makes animal cruelty in the first degree a felony punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years and a fine of not less than $1,000. Second-degree cruelty would be a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year and a fine of $500.
First-degree offenses include killing, torturing an animal or causing a minor to do so, cropping of an animal's ears or tail unless done by a veterinarian, vehicular hit and run, and the training of animals to fight — except for fighting cocks.
Second-degree offenses include intentional neglect. The bill provides that any person may enter private property without the owner's permission in order to tend to an animal that is without food or water for more than 12 hours.
The bill also establishes an Animal Abuse Fund of $100,000, to be funded annually through animal-abuse fines, gifts and grants, and administered by the commissioner of Finance. The money would go to reimburse animal shelters and veterinarians for unpaid expenses. The territory's not-for-profit animal shelters do not have the resources to pick up and impound all of the reported stray animals, their officials have long stated. The agencies have not received government funding for contracted services for more than two years.

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