Paws for a Moment by Bonny Corbeil

The Problem

The most important and often heart-breaking issue which our ACC confronts on a daily basis is that of animal abuse. It stands in front of us everyday demanding a voice. It is our role to be the voice of animals who cannot speak for themselves. This is the basic mandate of all animal shelters.

 Here are some of the horrific animal abuse incidents reported in 2003:

Somebody on St. Thomas murdered a dog by tying it to a cinder block on a three-foot tether, and dropped it into the sea. A large dog was found hanging from a tree on the North Side of St. Thomas. It was reportedly there for several days before anyone called authorities.

Somebody on St. Croix 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. Another dog who had been left behind when people left the territory, was found on a heavy chain with a lock on the collar and a lock on the other end — no food, no water. The dog was thin as plywood, chained and starving to death.

On St. John, a labrador retriever was found almost dead in a public trash bin in Coral Bay. The dog had been shot and tossed in there to die. In another trash bin on St. John, somebody had placed a box of live kittens, taped shut. They were discovered in time and taken to the island’s animal shelter. It was too late for the dog.

There are so many cases of tied up and abandoned animals, literally skeletons, in outside cages without food or water for months. There are also numerous reports of small puppies and kittens being used to “bait train” fighting dogs.

At the least, these are incidents of neglect; the worst, animal abuse. They cannot be ignored. There are hundreds of documented incidents, along with heart-breaking pictures clearly showing years of animal abuse that somehow still continue in our territory.

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. Animal abuse is a fact of life in the Virgin Islands. Just last week in the V.I. Daily News, there was a report of a man on St. Croix who allegedly became angry with his dog who had rooted in the garbage. What did he do? He dragged the dog in the bushes, tied it up and proceeded to beat it with nails protruding out of a piece of wood. There were a number of children watching. It was reported that they said they were very frightened by the incident and “felt like crying.”

This is probably the saving grace about this sad story — the children understood that this was clearly wrong. Their emotional reaction to the incident, thankfully, was much more appropriate than that of the adult. This is where we must come together as adults and recognize what it is we are teaching our children through this kind of behavior: when you are angry and upset, it is unacceptable to take it our on others — especially those smaller and weaker than you.

Our actions always speak louder than our words. Children learn what they live. We demonstrate through this kind of behavior that our power is only in our physical strength; that it is okay to bully those smaller than us. When we learn violent behavior is acceptable, especially as children when we are impressionable, we will continue to find our power through unacceptable behavior. This is a ticket to open the door to a difficult life, usually one that leads to more abusive behavior. Is that what we want for our children?

This kind of violent behavior was prevalent in the atrocities done to the black race during slavery in our islands. Every one of us should be enraged by it, whether it is done to human beings or animals. It is an abuse of both power and control.

None of us, no matter what our race, should accept this kind of violent behavior from anyone in our communities today. Yet we do. Violent crimes are rampant in our communities today especially with our youth.

This lack of respect for life, whether human or animal, is frightening. Sadly, there is a good chance that this “beating” behavior is learned. Most likely those who “beat” have been beaten themselves, and the vicious cycle goes on and on. Any of these attacks on animals could easily have been attacks on human beings. Volumes of research testify that animal abuse is a first step toward violent attacks on humans. That is something that we must all accept if we are to move forward in changing the deeply rooted cycle of violence in our communities.

Next Paws Column: Don’t we now have a law against animal abuse? Have a comment? E-mail me at [email protected]