Dear Senators and Gov. Turnbull,
The veto of the Animal Cruelty Bill was yet another blow to the safety and welfare of all of us.
In June of this year I happened upon a travesty at the V.I. Department of Agriculture. A pedigreed racehorse bought and brought to the Virgin Islands for the purposes of racing had been horribly wronged by his human contacts. When he no longer could run due to being raced too hard and too early, he was traded down until he was being used in illegal bush races by teenage boys.
When these boys were caught up in the retaliatory violence that we are so used to in the Virgin Islands, he was caught in the middle.
On the day I first met Xavier-Phoenix, he had been doused with gasoline and set on fire in an act of revenge. He was suffering from severe second- and third-degree burns to 70-80 percent of his body and in pain.
In the month that followed, the community on St. Croix, St. Thomas and Lexington, Ky., rallied around this horse who exhibited such an incredible will and ability to live. His memory reminds me of the injustice that was done to him, not only in an outrageous act of violence (which of course has not been prosecuted ), but in the fact that he was allowed to be brought to this island by individuals with no regard for his welfare or his future.
I assure you, that the plight of Xavier-Phoenix -with pictures- was well broadcast via the Internet and in hard copy to my friends and colleagues in Kentucky, Florida and Texas and in the horseracing world as well as the animal welfare groups nationwide. They were
outraged and heart-broken. It is my goal to keep the information and news regarding the welfare of the racehorses imported to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands from the United States from places that actually value and respect these incredible animals.
While you, the elected body and the Turnbull administration, may or may not really see this as important, perhaps when respected breeders refuse to sell winning bloodlines to the horse-racing industry here pressure may build. Perhaps then, their plight as well as their other members of the animal world here might be worth protecting not only from the abuse that seems to be part and parcel of life in the V.I. but also from outrageous acts in the local horse-racing industry as well.
Two examples one horse owner that left his horse locked in his stall at the St. Croix racetrack with no food for a week while he partied hard at Carnival in St. Thomas. The horse in question ate its stall bedding to survive. Or, my favorite, the owners that inject their racehorses with cocaine so they will "run faster." A change of ownership and management style on the last horse this happened to made a winner out of her the secret? He actually fed her instead of injected her…what a concept.
These stories and more can be found at your local track, but only in the Virgin Islands. The track needs management and enforcement. These horses should have been confiscated from their abusive owners and the people should have been banned from the track, either permanently or until they demonstrated proper horse care. Perhaps a two strikes and you are out forever approach.
No horses should race either without passing a drug test. Any threats against the vets or the lab should be considered a felony and be prosecuted. Let's get serious and get real. The new company coming in needs a lot of community support to establish a real track here, complete with management and legal enforcement. I for one will be watching their progress very closely.
The veto of the Animal Cruelty Bill has far-reaching implications beyond a few birds. It affects the very fabric of all life here on island. It is a true shame and shows a true lack of empathy or understanding of the magnitude of the problem.
Research Specialist II, Animal Science Division
Agricultural Experiment Station
University of the Virgin Islands
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