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St. Croix Animal Shelter Facing Financial Crisis, Director Says

Aug. 26, 2008 — The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center has reached a financial crisis, according to Stacia Boswell, executive director and veterinarian at the shelter.
"We can't keep operating with the budget deficit we have," Boswell said. "We have reached a critical point."
The V.I. government provides $85,000 a year for the non-profit center, but its operating costs are more than $400,000 a year. Numerous fund-raising efforts throughout the year bring in almost $300,000, helping to cover the deficit and keep the doors open.
Boswell testified recently before Sen. Terrence Nelson's Finance Committee requesting $400,000 for fiscal year 2009.
"We are very responsible about financial statements and can show where every dime goes," Boswell said. "I'm optimistic the Senate will address the situation appropriately for the 2009 budget. Sen. Nelson is supportive and said he stands behind our request."
The center has held an animal control contract with the V.I. government (under the auspices of the Agriculture Department) for many years, under which the center provides all domestic animal-control functions on St. Croix, according to Boswell. The center currently seeks to have this contract critically reviewed by the government so the terms of its expense reimbursement can be improved.
The vast majority of the center's operating expenses are related to the performance of animal-control functions, Boswell said in a recent interview. Those functions include animal pick up, processing, housing and feeding for the requisite period, and euthanasia and adoption. Other expenses include shelter operations and staff salaries, building maintenance and utilities, and the cost of the animal warden vehicle and equipment. The center has 15 part-time and full-time employees.
Animal welfare affects the whole community, including tourists, Boswell said. Animal issues that aren't controlled can pose public-health risks, such as dog bites and the spreading of disease — even traffic accidents, Boswell said.
The center, in existence for more than 30 years, provides care for 4,000 animals a year. The mission of the center is to promote the humane treatment of animals through animal control, humane education, low cost spay and neutering and adoption of animals on island and stateside.
"We are the voice for the animals," Boswell said. "We speak on their behalf. If we don't, who will?"
Animal cruelty is a crime in the Virgin Islands, but so far no one has been tried under the law passed in 2005, Boswell said. She is enthused that jury selection for St. Croix's first prosecution of an animal-cruelty case is scheduled to begin early next month.
In that case, Max, a mixed-breed dog, was restrained to a tree, brutally beaten and blinded. With the help of the center, Max survived and was adopted into a loving home.
After waiting years for prosecution, the attorney general's office has announced that jury selection for this case will begin Sept. 2.
"This is a history-making event for the center, the people of St. Croix, the territory — everyone who supports non-violence and, most importantly, for Max," said Moises Carmona, director of animal control operations and the warden who responded to Max's case. “We have been waiting a long time for justice for Max."
The Attorney General was the first person to respond to an invitation sent out for Silent Witness, an anti-cruelty conference the center is hosting, Boswell said. Invitations went to people involved in law enforcement, the Women's Coalition, policy makers and anti-cruelty proponents.
Some of the topics covered at the conference will be the link between animal abuse and family violence, and investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty. It will take place Oct. 24 at Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino. The conference registration fee is $30 and is open to the public. It takes place in the Casino conference room from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The next fund-raising event will be the annual pledge party membership drive Sept. 20 at the Buccaneer Resort.
For more information, call the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center at 778-1650 or visit the center's website.
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