July 24, 2001 – Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg's efforts for more than a year to get a bill passed to toughen penalties for animal cruelty and neglect have gotten a boost from the Police Department's K-9 Corps in the St. Thomas/St. John district.
In a letter to Sen. Carlton Dowe, who chairs the Rules Committee, where the "animal cruelty" bill is currently in a holding pattern, officers of the K-9 unit stated, "We are in full support of the increasing of penalties and the passing of legislation making animal cruelty a felony."
One of the arguments advanced by advocates of the bill is that research has shown repeatedly that animal abuse and neglect by an individual has often been a precursor to violent behavior directed by that person toward humans. "We are well acquainted with the results of the link between animal cruelty and human domestic violence," the K-9 officers wrote, adding that the unit "deals with it on a daily basis."
The bill, first introduced in the 23rd Legislature, 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 would include physical injury, unnecessary killing, disposing of live animals in garbage bins, committing a hit and run, and confining an animal in a vehicle without adequate ventilation. The bill also would make 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.
On July 5, the Rules Committee voted to hold the bill, which had been forwarded from the Government Operations, Planning and Natural Resources Committee, which approved it in May. It was scheduled to be heard at a Rules session on July 13, but majority senators of the 24th Legislature told Donastorg the day before that it had been "misplaced."
The bill has strong public support. Animal rights advocates gathered more than 3,000 supporting signatures and testified at hearings on St. Thomas and St. Croix last year. The bill was aired twice in the 23rd Legislature, both times consigned to be held committee and never heard from again.
"We will be most willing to testify," the St. Thomas-St. John K9 officers said in their letter, "and give eyewitness accounts of the connection between domestic violence and how it affects members of the community in both humans and animals, and why we need the laws strengthened."
The letter, dated July 11 and made available to the Source on Wednesday, was signed by Sgt. Elton Grant and Officers Ecedro Lindquist, David Rhymer and LaVenia Donastorg.
The K-9 Corps, which pairs human officers with police dogs, is often called upon to respond to crimes of violence, domestic and otherwise.


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