Puerto Rico gains a new humane law; prosecution of animal control contractor fails

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:

 

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico–“With very little fanfare in the rest
of the U.S., Puerto Rico has enacted a landmark animal protection
law, based, in large part, directly on Animal Legal Defense Fund’s
model laws,” announced ALDF director of legislative affairs Stephan
Otto on September 12, 2008.
“Included,” Otto said, “are felonies for neglect,
abandonment, cruelty and animal fighting; and statutory recognition
of the link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans
through increased penalties for those with prior animal abuse
convictions,” or convictions for domestic violence, child or elder
abuse, and/or committing cruelty in front of children.
The new Puerto Rican definition of animal abuse “includes
emotional harm,” enables judges to grant protective orders on behalf
of animals, and creates a duty to enforce anti-cruelty laws, Otto
said.


“This bill sailed through the Puerto Rican legislature,”
Otto marveled. “It was introduced in May, was in the Governor’s
hands in early July, and was signed into law and went into effect in
August.”
The new law was both boosted to passage and overshadowed on
introduction by probably the last and almost certainly the most
sensational case ever brought to trial under the old law. The case
concluded on September 10, 2008 when Superior Court Judge Miguel
Fabre found Animal Control Solutions owner Julio Diaz and workers
Lucas Montano Rivera and Roberto Rodriguez Ceballo not guilty of
allegedly collecting about 80 dogs and cats from the city of
Barceloneta, along the north central Puerto Rican coast, and
hurling them over a 50-foot-high bridge to their deaths.
“Fabre ruled prosecutors did not show sufficient evidence to
make a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, telling the court
that investigators had no witnesses linking the trio to the pets’
deaths,” reported Associated Press writer Carlos Martinez Rivera.
“Diaz, Rivera, and Ceballo waived their right to a jury, saying
finding impartial jurors would be impossible due to the heavy
publicity surrounding the case,” which received saturation coverage
from Associated Press and other media.
“Public prosecutor Zulma Delgado told reporters she did not
intend to appeal Fabre’s ruling,” added Carlos Martinez Rivera.
Barceloneta mayor Sol Luis Fontanez “said the city hired
Animal Control Solution to clear three housing projects of pets after
warning residents about a no-pet policy,” reported Associated Press
writer Omar Marrero after the animals were found on October 10,
2007. “He said the city paid $60 for every animal recovered and
another $100 for each trip to a shelter in the San Juan suburb of
Carolina.”
“They came as if it were a drug raid,” animal advocate Alma
Febus told Marrero. “They took away whatever animals they could find.
Some pets were taken away in front of children.”
Added Marrero, “Residents told TV reporters that they saw
the animal control workers inject the animals,” supposedly with “a
sedative for the drive to the shelter.”
The animals were discovered under the bridge in Vega Baja,
between Barceloneta and San Juan, two days after the aggressive
pick-ups began. “Many were already dead when they threw them, but
others were alive,” bridge neighbor Jose Manuel Rivera told Marrero.
“Some of the animals managed to climb to the highway even though they
were all battered, but about 50 animals remained.”
When Jose Manuel Rivera alerted local officials, he said,
they merely spread lime over the animals’ remains. Rivera then
buried the dead animals with a backhoe, said Michael Melia of
Associated Press.
Diaz cofounded an apparently defunct firm called Animal
Delivery in 1999, and formed Animal Control Solutions in 2002.
Recounted Associated Press writers Yaisha Vargas and Andrew
O. Selsky, “Facing little competition, the companies had 85
contracts with municipalities and other clients worth $1.1 million in
the past eight years, according to the Puerto Rican comptroller’s
office. A former employee of one of Diaz’s companies told Associated
Press that the firms rounded up thousands of animals over the years,
brutally killed many of them, and discarded the corpses wherever it
was convenient. One former employee led Associated Press to two
different killing fields, and he and another former employee
described a third.”
“Not a single animal was turned over to a shelter,” the
former employees said anonymously.
“Associated Press contacted all eight animal shelters and
sanctuaries across Puerto Rico,” Vargas and Selsky continued, “and
they confirmed that none had received animals for potential adoption
from Diaz’s companies.”
The case drew international attention to the lack of
effective humane services in most of Puerto Rico. Several
large-scale dog and cat sterilization programs have operated in
Puerto Rico during the past 15 years, and the numbers of animals at
large where they have worked have reportedly decreased, but none of
the programs have succeeded in extending low-cost or free
sterilization services to more than a small part of the island.
In theory, Puerto Rico is compact enough that a single
centrally located clinic could serve the entire island. In practice,
the winding, narrow roads through the mountainous interior of the
island make operating from a single central location impractical.
The North Shore Animal League funded ANIMAL PEOPLE to do an
assessment of the Puerto Rican dog and cat population situation in
1998, and sent then-operations director Perry Fina to begin
implementing the ANIMAL PEOPLE recommendations. When local
organizations balked at cooperating with each other, North Shore
transferred most of the funding that had been allocated to helping in
Puerto Rico to assist the highly successful “no-kill, no shelter”
McKee Project in Costa Rica.
Fina died in January 2008, disappointed that the McKee
Project has yet to be copied in Puerto Rico.

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