Aug. 30, 2001 – The animal anti-cruelty bill died a quick but far-from-painless death Thursday evening in the Senate Rules Committee. It was killed by a 2-2 vote on a motion by Sen. Adelbert Bryan to table the measure.
"The bill dies in committee," Rules chair Carlton Dowe, who supported the bill, declared.
The causes of death: cockfighting and politics.
After listening to informed and impassioned testimony from the bill's supporters during the St. Thomas hearing, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel declared she could not vote for something she found "hypocritical." She said the bill didn't outlaw cockfighting, which she objected to. "All animals should be protected," she said, adding that she would vote for the bill if a cockfighting ban were included.
Mary Edwards, manager of the St. Croix Animal Shelter, explained that a ban on cockfighting was originally in the bill. She said Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the bill's sponsor, had told her if she wanted the bill to pass, the cockfighting section had to come out. "It was a take it or leave it situation," Edwards said, as Donastorg had made clear to her that the cock-fighting lobby was strong enough to kill the bill.
"We've been trying to get this bill passed since 1996," Edwards said she told Pickard-Samuel. "I disapprove of cock fighting as much as you do, but we want to get this bill passed."
Edwards earlier had given moving testimony in a plea for the stronger penalties against animal abuse the bill set. She said that on Tuesday a woman had called the shelter to report that a dog was dying in front of her house, bleeding on the sidewalk but still alive. She said the woman asked to have the dog picked up and put out of its misery. Before the dog could be picked up, the woman called back to say somebody had put the animal in a plastic bag and put it in the compactor of a garbage truck.
Also testifying were animal advocates Rita Roth and Lorraine Mason; Laura Michalski, a social worker from Family Resource Center; and Hubert Brumant, Humane Society of St. Thomas shelter manager. All spoke of the link between cruelty to animals and violence against humans.
The witnesses reacted in shock at the abrupt vote to table the bill. Bryan had long shown open disdain for the measure, ridiculing it at every hearing. Thursday he railed about what he termed the bill's "hypocrisy," invoking racial issues. He wondered if the people who started slavery had been cruel to animals first.
After Edwards said animal cruelty is now a felony in 32 states, Bryan retorted, "If you want to live with this bill, go back to those 32 states." He said no one would tell him what to feed his animals, adding, "Alpo, Science Diet brought in by Topa Equities, it's hypocritical."
Edwards said the bill's language about animals being fed properly meant fed and watered adequately. She said some people think rabbits get enough water from grass and don't give them water to drink. "The bill is simply common sense," she said.
Bryan asked where the witnesses against the measure were. Dowe said he had invited public testimony on the bill.
Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole and Dowe affirmed their support of the bill. Cole said he attends cock fights. "We eat chickens and it's no problem," he said, "so I wonder about the cockfights — it seems like a contradiction." However, he said, "We are all God's creatures, and we must be protected."
After Pickard-Samuel said she would support the bill with a ban of cockfighting included, Edwards suggested she write an amendment to that effect then and there. Pickard-Samuel, however, said Donastorg should write it and bring it to her to submit. Cole said he would support the bill with a cockfight ban added. "I voted for it without it, and I will vote for it with it," he said.
Voting to table the bill were Bryan and Pickard-Samuel. Voting against tabling were Dowe and Cole. Rules Committee member and bill sponsor Celestino A. White Sr., who had been in the Senate chamber earlier, was off the floor when the vote was taken. The other two committee members, Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, were excused. Liburd is away from the territory; Hansen was on St. Croix for ongoing Finance Committee budget hearings.
After Dowe adjourned the meeting following the vote, tempers flared in full force in the hall outside the chamber. Shouting, Cole and Pickard-Samuel accused Donastorg of killing his own bill by omitting a cockfighting ban. "You killed it, yourself," Pickard-Samuel told Donastorg, accusing him of playing political games and adding, "I won't play them." He angrily threw the same charge back at her.
Brumant vainly tried to convince them all that the bill should be passed as Cole and Pickard-Samuel continued shouting about getting an amendment to ban cockfights. "You write it, and I'll move it," Cole told Donastorg. Bryan was in the hallway but didn't enter the fray.
In an emotional statement to reporters as he left the building, Cole said he would submit an amended bill to the committee with the cockfighting ban. "All I have to do is take it to Dowe, and I know he will put it back on the Rules agenda," he said. But he insisted, "Donastorg has to write the amendment."
Cole and Pickard-Samuel were adamant about not wanting to author such an amendment. Cockfighting is a lucrative activity in the territory with a large following.
Donastorg is not a member of the Rules Committee and so could not have written an amendment during the hearing.
In a release issued by his office later, Donastorg said, "A scam was perpetrated against the people of the V.I. by their senators. Once again, they're trying to confuse people and cloud the real issues at hand."


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