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 MacLean Marine Science Center on the St. Thomas campus 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 3-foot tether 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 on Friday that the students, ages 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.
Instead of worrying about disposal of the body, which could as easily have been left to the fish, Prosterman said, "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 learned 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," he said.
If Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and some of his colleagues had their way, it would be a first-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Under the V.I. Code now, 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 doesn't believe there is any need for stricter animal cruelty laws that the V.I. law is sufficient.
Others within the criminal justice community disagree. In 2001, during one of the attempts to get the so-called "anti-animal cruelty bill" passed, K-9 unit police officers 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, Sgt. Thomas Hannah, Police Department spokesman, said recent incidents of animal cruelty on St. Croix have caused the police to appeal to the community in an effort to make people understand that cruelty to animals goes hand in hand with cruelty to other humans. "This individual [who drowned the dog] could have easily done this to a human being," he said.
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 he found at www.theanimalspirit.com is prefaced by remarks from the U.S. Justice Department's 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." The statement goes on to say that "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."
Hannah said he has no doubt there is a connection. He also said it is a felony to attack a K-9 Corps dog, because the police animals have the same status as their human counterparts in the corps.
Sadly, the dog found by the UVI students, a white a female pit bull, according to Prosterman, was not the first drowned dog he had ever seen. A few years ago, he came upon a male pit bull, also with a rope tied around its neck attached to a cement block, floating in the water near Saba Island off Cyril E. King Airport.
He 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 doesn'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."
Donastorg said Friday night that after consulting with personnel at the Humane Society and the St. Croix Animal Shelter who have made recommendations concerning his bill, as soon as he makes the suggested adjustments, he will be ready to get it assigned to committee again, probably within the next few weeks. "We really need it," he said.
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.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.