May 27, 2005 – A grisly scene of animal abuse came to light Thursday. Hubert Brumant, Humane Society of St. Thomas animal care manager, said he received a call from a construction worker late Wednesday evening reporting two dead dogs carcasses tied to a tree.
"The man said they were putting up a fence and saw what looked like dead dogs," Brumant said. "We went out first thing Thursday and found the remains of two dogs who had been tied to a tree — they were skeletons with chains on. We met them with ropes tied to their collars and tied to a tree with a padlock on a chain."
Brumant deals with cruelty to animals on an almost daily basis, but he said this instance is "shocking." About three or four years ago, Brumant was called to a similar situation where three dogs were abandoned in the Bolongo area, tied to a tree and left to die. At that time, he said it was the most violent abuse he had yet seen. "This was almost identical," Brumant said.
"Up to last night, I was thinking about what those animals went through," he said. "And when you think how somebody could do that to an animal, they could do it to anybody."
Brumant said, "They put lime over the dogs to conceal the smell. The dogs were in a place where nobody would probably notice them. It's so horrible when you think they could have brought them to us, or we would have picked them up, at no charge. There's no excuse for this; it's first degree abuse."
There is one positive aspect to the situation. The Animal bill is now law, and the Department of Justice has stepped in.
If the perpetrator is found, this may be the territory's first case of animal abuse in the first degree, which under the new law is a felony with a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of not less than $2,000.
Joe Elmore, Humane Society executive director, said Friday morning, "Hubert called me from the site. He described the gruesome neglect. We called the AG's office and Curtis Williams Jr., director of special investigations, sent Kenneth Schulterbrandt, an investigator, to the scene to take pictures and investigate." Curtis assured Elmore his office will pursue the case.
"It's on the books now," Elmore said, "and that sends a message." He added, "We have to wait until an investigation is completed. We have to give the benefit of the doubt."
Elmore said the shelter had its first case of animal neglect earlier this month. Though he was distressed about the animal in question, a horse, Elmore was gratified at the response from the V.I. Police Department.
"They worked with us swiftly," Elmore said. "Word has spread like wildfire about the new law."
In the past, it has been difficult to get police cooperation, Elmore said, because there was "no teeth in the existing law."
Elmore, a police officer, and a representative from the Department of Agriculture seized a horse that was being mistreated in a stable at the Clinton Phipps racetrack. "The Agriculture Department broke the lock, which it can do by law, and removed the horse to the agriculture grounds." Elmore said he and others have been monitoring the horse since last August after discovering that it was not being cared for or fed properly.
"It was dirty, it was getting thinner," Elmore said, adding, "We worked with the guy who owned the horse, and we see the horse isn't in any better condition. It takes education. The horse's condition was deteriorating, so the decision was made to intervene."
The Humane Society wasn't the only entity concerned about the animal. Elmore said, "The other horse owners at the track were upset, too. They take proper care of their horses, and they are primarily the ones who have raised concerns. They police themselves and share concerns to make sure stables are clean and horses are fed."
Elmore said the owner could be charged with second-degree neglect, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $3,000 and 500 hours of community service.
"Changing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor was one of the compromises we made with the governor on the bill," Elmore said.
The Animal Cruelty bill became law May 5 after more than five years of legislative jockeying from committee to committee, as well as two trips to government house where it was twice vetoed. (See "Animal Cruelty Bill Becomes Law").
Barbara Bradford, Agriculture Department veterinarian, said Friday morning that the horse is "fine where she is." She said the Department can keep the horse for five days legally, and then determine what to do, whether to adopt it out. The horse is a seven-year-old thoroughbred mare, Bradford said, explaining the horse was probably raced until about a year or so ago.
Bradford said, "VICTREE has been here. They took some blood tests on the horse to check her for disease. They may take her." VICTREE, the V.I. Community cooperative Thoroughbred Retirement Effort, was started last year by three women who were upset about the inhumane treatment of horses. Lynn Utech, Becky Petri and Kate Johnson raise funds to send mistreated horses on to greener pastures in the states.
Elmore said, "People have a misconception that we care for horses like we do dogs and cats. We don't have the capability. We rely on organization like VICTREE. They play a very important role. They have some space now on the St. Thomas Dairies property."
Now, that the animal bill is law at last, Elmore said, "We will start organizing a strategy to deal with cockfighting." Cockfighting has been an issue in trying to get the animal bill passed. Elmore and Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the bill's primary sponsor, made a deliberate decision to address cockfighting as a separate issue in order to get the bill passed, at all.
Elmore had good news for the bill's many supporters. "There's an Animal Cruelty bill victory party this Sunday at Bolongo Bay," he said. "Dick Doumeng, resort owner, has been one of our big supporters, and he said to come on out. It starts at 3 p.m., admission is free, and it's a family day celebration with hot dogs and a buffet."
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