March 6, 2005 Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has, for the second time, vetoed a bill that seeks to impose stiffer penalties for animal neglect and abuse.
The bill would make first-degree abuse, which includes: killing, torturing, cutting off ears or tails by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian, poisoning animals, or trapping animals for fighting, a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000.
Currently these offenses are misdemeanors carrying minimum fines. Enforcement is rarely, if ever, imposed.
The bill would have brought the territory in line with most other jurisdictions under the American flag.
But Turnbull said he was worried about what would happen to "an elderly lady driving alone late at night on a lonely and dark road in the country, who may accidentally injure a stray cat or dog who has no known owner [sic] must abandon her vehicle and search for a possible owner, thus imposing herself and/or her vehicle to serious harm."
The bill says first-degree neglect, which is punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to three years in prison, includes not attempting to provide aid after striking an animal with a vehicle.
Turnbull also took exception to the language in Section 1 of the bill which defines "animal" as any non-human mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian. In a letter to Senate President Lorraine Berry Sunday, Turnbull wrote, "Does this include harmful rodents such as a rat?"
Turnbull also suggested in the letter that the senators make a "careful review of the bill, section by section."
Turnbull said he didn't think the behaviors called for imprisonment. "In most instances," he wrote to Berry, "fines rather than imprisonment would be the more appropriate punishment."
Along with the aforementioned first degree abuse actions, the bill addresses the following:
Second-degree abuse, a misdemeanor includes: inflicting pain, leading an animal from a vehicle or motor vehicle-driven trailer in a malicious or negligent manner, and transporting animals in a malicious manner.
First-degree neglect, a felony includes offenses such as, failing to provide adequate care for animals, abandoning an animal, disposing of a live animal in a Dumpster or garbage disposal site, allowing sick or old animals to suffer, failing to provide aid after hitting an animal with a vehicle, and subjecting an animal to high temperatures while confined in a vehicle.
Second-degree animal neglect, a misdemeanor, includes failing to provide food and water for more than 12 consecutive hours.
The incidences of animal abuse in the territory have been widely publicized, and those working in the animal protection field tell stories of animals that have been set on fire, tortured, poisoned and used for bait in training dogs for fighting, which is a felony, but which is also widely practiced with seeming impunity.
The governor wrote, "As an individual who truly feels that cruelty to animals is wrong and is a crime that should be punished in accordance to the severity of the act, it pains me immensely to feel compelled for the second time to veto a bill that seeks to curb animal cruelty."
But, he wrote, that the "various penalties do not fit the respective crimes."
See Analysis: 26th Legislature Resurrects, Passes Animal Cruelty Bill" for a detailed report on the history of the bill.
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