Amid Community Uproar, VIPD Announces Two New Animal Cruelty Investigators

A box of new puppies left on the doorstep of the Humane Society of St. Thomas is a fairly common occurrence, according to Dellia Holodenschidel, board president. (Photo courtesy of Dellia Holodenschidel)

Just one day after the community learned of the gruesome torture and killing of a female dog in April on St. Croix, word traveled through the territory that the only animal cruelty officer had been removed from his duties. Angry messages and petitions clamored on social media for explanations and the reinstatement of the police officer, Detective Daniel Rodriguez.

On Wednesday, Police Commissioner Ray Martinez told the Source they have selected new animal cruelty investigators who are already on the job in both districts. Martinez also said relieving Rodriguez of his assignment hours after the discovery of the dog mutilation was a coincidence. The commissioner didn’t recall the incident, so it wasn’t a factor, adding that a number of officers were moved to the patrol unit, not just Rodriguez.

“The chief and I made the objective recommendation to move him to conduct patrol duty in concert with his animal cruelty duties,” Martinez said. “He was transferred to the patrol division and advised that he would continue, from the patrol duty, to address and respond to animal cruelty issues.”

Rescue organizations rely heavily on VIPD to help protect animals and humans. They also safeguard community health – dogs attack humans and farm animals and sick and dying animals spread disease.

Rodriguez has been with the V.I. Police Department more than a quarter of a century and the territory’s only animal cruelty investigator for the last five years. Rodriguez also served in the U.S. Army and the V.I. National Guard Military Police.

How VIPD Helps

The VIPD animal cruelty investigator, like any other police officer, has a badge, gun and the authority to impound animals and issue charges and citations. That’s what rescuers say they need – preferably a unit of officers. Rescue personnel have no authority to remove animals from private property – and also government property where they frequently find chained dogs.

Rodriguez performed all of those duties and much more according to staff from the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center and the other rescue operations. He not only accompanied personnel to dangerous locations to remove animals that were abused or neglected, he frequently returned to feed and give water to those left behind.

Andreas Gloggengieser, the Animal Welfare Center executive director, said they call for Rodriguez’s help at least once a week for help bringing in stray animals in poor condition. He also said the detective fed stray dogs and patrolled areas from which complaints were received about fighting dogs. Rodriguez even fostered and adopted dogs, the director said.

“First of all we need them to do animal control. We have calls where people say, ‘can you come out,’ and we say we don’t have any rights to go on people’s property,” he said. Also, we need 911 training, because 911 says call the shelter, but we don’t have the right to do it. We can’t go into private property. We can’t intervene in anything. If someone gets bitten by a dog, that’s a police matter.”

Katie Nielsen of Ruff Start STX, a non-profit organization, rescues abused, injured and abandoned dogs on St. Croix and said she probably has called on Rodriguez as much as anyone. He always responded on the “days that I needed the most help” such as picking up dogs injured by cars, hiding at the dumps or one that may need to be euthanized.

On St. Thomas, which currently does not have an animal cruelty investigator that they are aware of, rescue operations call VIPD in hopes of getting someone to come out and help. Dellia Holodenschidel, president of the Humane Society of St. Thomas, said they “need our own Rodriguez.”

“If we want to change our community, we have to enforce the laws,” she said.

The two shelters are funded for picking up stray and abandoned animals. However, all of the shelters and rescue operations are underfunded, understaffed and usually contain many more animals than they can handle. So they need all the help they can get.

“I know the police wants the same thing we do,” Gloggengieser said, “We want to curb this issue and we want the best for the animals and we want the best response to the public.”

Pup gets help from Ruff Start STX. (Photo courtesy of Katie Nielsen)

The new officers are Sgt. Dwight Griffith and Detective Alex Dorsett on St. Thomas and on St. Croix Officer Millissa Vigilant and Rodriguez. People should dial 911 for animal cruelty cases, and 340-774-2211 and 340-778-2211 for other concerns. (When the Source dialed the numbers, the VIPD front desk answered on St. Thomas but there was no answer on St. Croix and the mail box was full.)

The Humane Society of St. Thomas has 100 dogs and 100 cats in a facility built to hold 40 and 70 respectively. Rough Start has helped 700 dogs in the last 7 years, finding foster and permanent homes for them. In 2021, the AWC received 1,536 dogs and 1,141 cats, with the normal population more than 100.

Animal cruelty is a Group A crime of the National Incident-Based Reporting System and is tracked in the same way as murders and rapes. With this large database of statistics and other resources, it is common knowledge that there is a strong correlation between perpetrators of animal cruelty crimes evolving into criminals of child abuse and domestic violence.

First-degree animal cruelty, a felony, is punishable, according to V.I. Code Title 14, Chapter 7, with up to two years imprisonment for each offense and fines between $2,500 and $5,000. It is defined as killing, torturing, maiming, mutilating, disfiguring, wounding or inflicting unjustifiable or repeated physical pain, suffering or injury to any animal among other offenses such as cropping animals’ ears by a person other than a licensed veterinarian and poisoning. Animal neglect is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $3,000 and up to 500 hours of community service.