Paws for a Moment

By Bonny Corbeil

Why Animal Abuse Continues to Happen

The last two Paws columns discussed the present Anti-Cruelty to Animals Bill #25, which was finally passed by our Senate in 2004 after many failed attempts.

The questions asked now are, if there is a law in place against animal abuse in the V.I., why does it continue to happen and why don’t our police enforce these laws? The answers are not simple ones.

Why Does Animal Abuse Continue To Happen Now That There's a Law in Place?
Like so many social problems there must be an awareness of the problem as being exactly that — a problem.

Unfortunately, there are some people who believe that animals are their personal property and consequently, they have a right to treat them in any manner that they choose. This was quite evident in all of the hearings with the Legislature.

This is a dangerous attitude for people to have. It is the same attitude which supported domestic violence and oppressed women for so long. It was the underlying reason behind slavery, one of the most abominable acts that human beings have done to each other. This attitude also allowed parents to severely beat their children if they felt like it.

And here is where the true problem lies. Human beings are “feeling beings.” Feelings are such an objective experience; there are really no right or wrong feelings. Feelings simply are what they are. They come and they go. They are a part of our attempts at understanding ourselves and others. They are much more about what is going on inside our ways of thinking than about whatever situation exists around us.

Consequently, when we look outside to find power or to try and control those around us to make us feel in control or more powerful, we have begun a journey of wrong thinking. Wrong thinking very quickly becomes wrong acting. When we act out our anger and rage to those around us, whether people or animals, we become violent people addicted to both power and control issues through abuse. Violent behavior is a sure sign of something desperately  gone wrong in how people think.

That is why we must intervene with people who abuse animals. It is a sure indicator of future violence. In many ways our acknowledgement of animal abuse as wrong allows us the gift of truly looking at ourselves and hopefully changing this dysfunctional pattern. Prevention through awareness of ourselves as well as understanding the feelings that we have and ways to understand and deal with them is the way to move past abuse of all kinds, whether toward people or animals.

Why Don’t Our Police Enforce These Laws?
As we well know, there are many laws on the books in the Virgin Islands that are not enforced. There are many reasons for this from the lack of funding for manpower in our V.I. Police Department to the lack of leadership in our political system, which has been ultimately responsible for providing the kind of leadership to tackle these very serious problems. Many people believe that with our centralized government in St. Thomas, we simply do not get what our island needs to successfully tackle local issues. Perhaps some people and yes, police officers as well, feel that with so many more important crimes against people, animal abuse is simply less of a crime?

I have been personally involved in attempting to report animal abuse incidents with little success to date. Though these laws are on the books, the practical aspects of enforcement are not in place. It appears that most officers at the desk where reports are made are not clear on how to “process” animal abuse reports. This has resulted in great frustration for many concerned people, including the police.
When we have laws that are ignored and accepted by our police, whether they are traffic laws or more serious ones, our entire community is at risk.

The police force must get their ducks in a row internally if we are to tackle a problem that affects more than the abuse of an animal. The truth is that both the suffering animals and the abusers lose when this kind of behavior is allowed to continue. If we truly wish to end violence in our community, we must not ignore our animal abuse laws. They go hand in hand.

Hopefully in time under VIPD Commissioner James McCall’s leadership, we will finally see these areas within our police department change. Animal abuse has been an accepted behavior for too long. It feeds the cycle of violence that is evident in our communities. It must stop.

Next Paws column: “What can we do as a community to help enforce these animal abuse laws?”

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