Nov. 30, 2004 We are forced to wonder if Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has ever had a pet or loved an animal.
Turnbull's recent veto of the Animal Anti-Cruelty bill is shocking. It seems to suggest a lack of understanding of how some in the territory do feel about animals. Of all the stories the Source has ever done, the greatest response from our readership which crosses all cultural and regional boundaries has been to stories we have done about animal cruelty.
The legislation in question would bring the territory in step with most other jurisdictions under the American flag, which make animal abuse a felony.
Turnbull's veto seems to reinforce the perception which is not true that we in the territory are somehow more backward or cruel than our stateside countrymen and women.
This bill would strengthen penalties for animal abuse. It would, among other things, make animal abuse and neglect felonies. This deterrent would be welcomed by police who have said on record that they don't usually have the time or the manpower to respond to misdemeanor calls. The VIPD canine corps has strongly supported the bill.
To selectively point out the weak language in the bill, and cite an extreme case robbing a bird's nest and getting a year in prison seems willfully ignorant.
The bill, admittedly, needs work. Randy Knight, animal activist and major supporter of the future Humane Society of St. Thomas Animal Campus, noted: "It is not a perfect bill; very rarely is there a perfect bill. It is a stepping stone."
Paul Chakroff, former former director of the St. Croix Animal Welfare Shelter executive director,
agrees the legislation needs to be tightened up. He lamented that the bill was, after months of work, suddenly "ramrodded" through the Senate. That tightening could be done with a couple amendments; one addressing the trespassing section of the bill and the other, the penalties for robbing a bird's nest, he said the two items the governor cited.
Turnbull also objected to the bill's omission of outlawing cockfighting, (after his objection to the bird's nest robbing). If the governor read the papers, or listened to Senate debates, he would be aware that a conscious decision was made to omit the cockfighting measure in hopes of getting the bill passed. It was a decision to open the door to future cockfighting legislation as a separate issue. Some senators have been all too willing to focus on the cockfighting issue, and disregard all else. The bill suffered in this fate in the 24th Legislature in an orchestrated move, backed by one senator who has publically said he approves of the brutal, inhumane and felonious practice of dog fighting.
Turnbull has, on many occasions, approved a bill, but added a laundry list of objections to be addressed. He could have done this with the Animal Cruelty bill, or, because the bill contains a fiscal appropriation, he could have line-item vetoed the parts he found, in his language "draconian."
What is truly "draconian," is the governor's lack of awareness of what is transpiring right before his eyes. We have a friend who lost part of her index finger last month to a pack of dogs on Vessup Beach. We have dogs tied to leashes and left to die, cats burned to death on a clothesline, a dog drowned with a cinder block around his neck, puppies burned to death.
Last year on St. Croix, somebody rode a bicycle into a yard where children were playing with their dog. The person shot and killed the animal in front of the children, and rode away.
On St. John, a Labrador retriever was found almost dead in public trash bin in Coral Bay. The dog had been shot, and tossed there to die.
The list of horrors is, frighteningly, endless.
People, especially children, must be educated early in life that animals are to pet and to love not things to throw rocks at and torture. But in the meantime those who are not teachable need to be punished in a way that will make an impact.
The people committing these hideous acts are living among us.. Their lack of respect for life, whether human or animal, is dangerous to all of us. Any of these attacks could as easily been on a human being. The connection between violence against animals and violence against humans has been well established. This bill would be a beginning, a step toward identifying and healing the violent among us. The bill provides for counseling for persons accused of animal abuse.
It is the duty of every human being, especially those who call themselves Christians, to protect those creatures be they animals or human beings who are unable to effectively protect themselves.
We expect the Legislature to act in a way more compassionate and loving than what we have seen from the governor.
Editors note:We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to email@example.com.