Oct. 17, 2003 Marine biology students at the University of the Virgin Islands were in for more than the shock of cold water when they jumped off the dock at the William McLean Marine Science Center Thursday afternoon. There, under the dock, they found the body of drowned dog, with a rope tied around her neck right next to her red collar attached by a three foot rope to a cinder block evidence she had been deliberately drowned.
"I have never seen anything as cruel," Christian Alfsnes, a visiting student from Norway, said.
Alfsnes, 22, who has a pet dog back in Norway, said he had jumped into the water with a waterproof disposable camera. He said he felt the need to photograph the scene and called the experience of finding the tortured animal "really depressing."
Stephen A. Prosterman, diving and marine field officer at UVI who was preparing to take the six students out for a dive when the grisly discovery was made, said Friday, the students aged 18 to 22 were clearly upset. "A couple of them were crying," he said.
Prosterman called 911.
But he said the police didn't seem too concerned at that point. They instructed him to call the Environmental Health Division to make arrangements for disposal of the body.
Prosterman said instead of worrying about disposal of the body, which could as easily been left to the fish, "We need to find the people who did this."
He then called the Humane Society of St. Thomas and was in for another shock when he found out that torturing and killing an animal is not a felony in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "I was in complete disbelief to find that it wasn't a felony to kill a dog that way."
If Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and some of his colleagues had their way, however, it would be a first degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $1000 fine.
Right now under the V.I. Code makes animal cruelty is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine.
On a radio talk show discussion a few weeks ago about a turtle that was killed on St. Croix by a pack of dogs, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said he didn't believe there was any need for stricter animal cruelty laws that the V.I. law was sufficient.
Other members of the Justice Department would disagree however. In 2001 during one of the attempts to get the so-called "anti-animal cruelty bill" passed police officers of the K-9 unit wrote a letter in support of making animal cruelty a felony. (See "K-9 Corps supports animal anti-cruelty bill")
"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."
On Friday, Police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Hannah said other recent incidents of animal cruelty on St. Croix have caused the police to appeal to the community in an effort to make people understand, "This individual (who drowned the dog) could have easily done this to a human being."
Hannah said after a puppy was set on fire and then a man shot a dog in front of a group of children, he decided to investigate the correlation between animal abuse and youth violence, child abuse, domestic violence and other forms of violence.
He had no trouble finding information on the Internet, he said.. One study Hannah found at www.animalspirit.com, is prefaced by remarks from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which state, "Although legal definitions of animal abuse vary, it is a crime in every state, and many states have enacted laws establishing certain forms of cruelty to animals as felony offenses." It goes on to say, " The forms of abuse to which animals may be subjected are similar to the forms of abuse children experience, including physical abuse, serious neglect, and even psychological abuse."
And Hannah has no doubt there is a connection, he said. He also said it is a felony to attack a K-9 Corps dog because they have the same status as their human counterparts in the Corps.
Sadly, the dog, a white a female pit bull, according to Prosterman, was not the first drowned dog he had ever seen. A few years ago Prosterman came upon a male pit bull, again with a rope tied around its neck attached to a cement block, floating in the water near Saba island off the Cyril E. King airport.
Prosterman said the look on the dog's face was one of pure torture, like it had been screaming in fear and pain as it died.
Prosterman said he didn't understand why anyone would dispose of an animal in such a cruel manner, "That's what we have the Humane Society for," he said, "to take in unwanted animals."
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Publisher's note: We realize this photograph may be offensive to some people. However, we felt that in order to make clear the reality of animal cruelty it was in the public interest to publish it.