March 15, 2005 I just wanted to update you on things here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The governor has once again vetoed the animal cruelty bill . Sadly, at the beginning of the year one of Seattle Slews decedents -Silent Slew- was just found in horrible condition suffering from disease and neglect.
We believe she may have died but are awaiting confirmation as she disappeared shortly after we found her. Most of you remember Xavier Alexander-our Phoenix-another distant descendent of the racing greats who was doused with gasoline and set on fire in June. I personally helped treat his wounds. He touched my heart deeply and I am determined not to let his death be in vain. It was inspiring to see his will to live despite the odds against him. I cannot forget.
We would like each of you to get the word out on what happens to these thoroughbreds when they are brought to the Caribbean. As much as we love these magnificent animals, they suffer in the tropics and have very little ability to handle the parasites or diseases they encounter.
Additionally, many, if not most, will end up loose in the streets after they no longer make money for their owners at the race track or in the illegal bush races. There they will slowly die of starvation or be attacked by dogs or hit by cars-unless someone intercedes on their behalf. There are so few of us and just so many of them.
There is a new company taking over the racetracks in this American paradise, but they have not ensured horse welfare in all their fancy descriptions of track overhaul. Indeed, it is not even on the page as far as I can ascertain. What I am certain of is that once the track has been painted and the landscaping is done, that the on and off track betting will resume. The horses will be locked up and forgotten while the money literally flows off their backs.
And I dont think that is fair or right. I want them to ensure the safety and welfare of these animals. If they want world class money and prestige on the backs of Thoroughbred racehorses-then they must ensure that horses are drug free, the races are clean, rules are enforced and the horses are well cared for and have a proper place to go after retirement-preferably back to the states if they havent caught any island diseases while they are here. The company the is running the race track is also run by the same company that runs Divi Casino on St.
Croix. In their licensing agreement to run the casino, they agreed to provide funding for education and counseling for gambling addictions-I believe they could do something similar at the track. They and the local government should be funding horse care education and have a fund set up to get these animals back off island if possible or provide funds toward long term care for imported racehorses if they cannot leave the islands.
We are also trying to force the passage of some basic animal cruelty laws here as well. Incredibly, the idiots who set Xavier on fire have still not been caught or prosecuted. No doubt they still trade in horseflesh. Now of course we must start over with new senators and a new Senate makeup as of January 2005. I am hopeful that we have finally elected responsible politicians. Time will tell.
There is a small silver lining that I hope to help shine. Several volunteers have started the 501 c3 non-profit Virgin Islands Community Cooperative Thoroughbred Retirement Effort on St. Thomas and I am hoping to bring a chapter to St. Croix as well. Since August they have re-placed six horses back to the mainland to Marion County Correctional Facility. This is an organization affiliated with the national Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation who is very supportive of the efforts to organize.
We would like each of you to contact our Senate and government and demand they create the laws necessary to protect the horses and other animals, both domestic and wild in these islands. Please cc these letters to your own representatives. We want to bring these issues out of the tropical shadows and place them in the limelight of public opinion. We want to ensure the welfare of the race horse stock that is imported here as well as those of the island stock that abounds on island. We want to ban cockfighting and create the legal weight of law necessary to counteract the acceptance here of animal abuse and violence.
I know we are just one more story in this enduring war. We also know politics is a game of public opinion and private interest and no one wants negative publicity. We also know things happen when viewed under the light of day. Please contact them and cc it to your senators and representatives. Help us build the groundswell of change.
Editor's note: Raina Dodson-Eimer is a reasearch specialist in the Animal Science Department at the University of the Virgin Islands.
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