Aug. 14, 2001 – The beleaguered animal rights bill, backed now by the Police Department's St. Thomas-St. John district K-9 Unit and the National Park Service, is on the agenda for an Aug. 30 meeting of the Senate Rules Committee.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, bounced from committee to committee in both the 23rd and 24th Legislatures, finally, in June, advancing to Rules, normally the last lap before consideration by the full Senate. However, at the June Rules meeting, the bill was once again held in committee, by a 4-2 vote on a motion by Sen. Adelbert Bryan, who has labeled the measure "a farce."
Sen. Carlton Dowe, the Rules Committee chair, wrote to Bryan earlier this month citing Aug. 30 as a proposed meeting date and asking him to have any proposed amendments to the bill prepared by that time. Dowe, himself a co-sponsor of the measure, has said he was in favor of sending it with a favorable vote to the full Senate at the June meeting but was voted down.
On Aug. 30, the bill is to be taken up following a hearing on nominations submitted by the governor. On Tuesday morning, Dowe's staff could not provide information on the nominees or the posts for which they have been nominated.
Support for the anti-cruelty bill has been building.
V.I. National Park Supt. John H. King recently wrote to Dowe endorsing the bill. "This legislation is long overdue," he said. "Not only has a connection been established between cruelty to animals and domestic violence, but many animals as well as the ecology of the Virgin Islands suffer as a result of the various forms of cruelty."
King emphasized a point of special interest to the Park Service: the abandonment of animals without making provision for their welfare. He told Dowe that as a result of such human irresponsibility, "the park is in the painful process of having to deal with numerous species of feral and exotic animals which threaten the existence of native species of wildlife and cause many problems with our forests."
The bill addresses abandonment of animals as a felony punishable by not more than three years of imprisonment and a fine of $1,000.
St. Thomas-St. John K-9 Corps officers have offered to testify before the committee on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. A representative of the Family Resource Center also has volunteered to testify in this regard.
St. Thomas animal rights advocate Rita Roth, a long-time active supporter of the bill, has gathered 3,000 signatures on a petition calling for its passage. She also contacted the national Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is willing to send volunteers to the territory to conduct training seminars on dealing with animal cruelty for police officers, attorneys, animal control officers and animal welfare workers.
Officials of The Humane Society of the United States have written to Donastorg in support of his bill. The letter said 31 states have passed animal anti-cruelty legislation.
Dowe said he encourages all interested individuals and groups to attend the Rules meeting. Those wishing to testify are asked to telephone Dowe's office at 693-3671 or 774-0880.


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