Dec. 26, 2003- Four puppies were put to sleep on Christmas Eve after suffering the "worst case of cruelty" Paul Chakroff has ever had to handle.
Moises Carmona, St. Croix Animal Welfare Center warden, picked up two of the puppies from a sparsely populated area in Estate Calquohoun on St. Croix, according to Chakroff, executive director of the center.
Two others from the same litter had come in with injuries over the previous two days, but it wasn't until Carmona brought in the last two that Chakroff realized "what we were dealing with [was] … an extreme case of animal cruelty."
"The puppies' front legs had been bound together tightly with thick rubber bands," Chakroff said. The same thing was done to the back legs. "Over days and probably weeks, the rubber bands squeezed off the circulation to the feet, he said. "Ultimately they [the rubber bands] dug through the flesh, all the way to the bone."
Chakroff said that "one puppy literally chewed off his two front feet to escape from the rubber tourniquet."
What is even more chilling, Chakroff said, was, "I believe that given the period of time required for the injuries to reach their current stage, they [the puppies] must have been provided food and water … otherwise they would have starved to death."
Chakroff, who ran a shelter for 16 years in Columbus, Ohio, before coming to St. Croix last year, said: "I have dealt with cruelty before, but this represents prolonged torture of a fellow creature. These poor animals suffered for an extended period of time."
Police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Hannah, who has been vocal about the need to make animal abuse a felony, was called to the animal center on Wednesday afternoon to observe the puppies. Two other policemen who were also called to file a police report were visibly shaken by what they saw, according to Chakroff.
One, he said, had to walk away after looking at the puppies.
"You have to ask what kind of a person could do such a thing to these four helpless beings?" Chakroff said. "This person poses a threat to the people as well as the non-human animals of our community. This person needs professional help."
Chakroff said he has little hope of ever finding and convicting whoever did this, but he hopes that if anyone knows who did it, they will try to get help for the person who he said is likely a man. "Ninety-five percent of all animal cruelty is perpetrated by men," he said.
Chakroff does not believe the incidence of animal cruelty is a reflection on the majority of the community. "I do believe the vast majority of people … are loving, kind people," he said. However, he added, "The one thing I would hope is that people would be less ambivalent … that they would take action to stop this kind of behavior."
He said that "we need to get involved," adding that, among other things, animal cruelty has a direct effect on "our ability to attract tourists and economic development."
Chakroff said on Friday that it is time for much stronger animal-cruelty legislation. "This is an example of first-degree animal abuse," he said. "This was not a case of neglect. It was deliberate, calculated, prolonged cruelty to four of God's creations." This, he said, "illustrates the need for a new animal-cruelty law."
"Under the proposed law, the person or persons who did this would be guilty of four counts of first-degree animal abuse, a felony offense. Such a conviction could carry a maximum of 20 years in prison plus $4,000 in fines," he said.
Police Chief Novelle Francis Jr. said on Friday that if animal abuse were a felony, "we could do more in terms of holding people accountable." And, he added, police would have more clout to investigate incidents. With animal cruelty currently a misdemeanor, police "have to observe the act" in order to charge anyone, he said.
Chakroff said on Friday, "We are pretty hardened to abuse and neglect at the animal shelter, but grown men were crying this Christmas Eve over the capability for cruelty exhibited by some of our fellow men." He could only add: "We brought the puppies' suffering to a peaceful end on Christmas Eve."
Anyone with information about this case is asked to please call Chakroff or Carmona at the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center, 778-1650. Chakroff said calls can be anonymous or will be strictly confidential.
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