Thursday, May 17, 2007

Small Issue Big Problem

The following editorial was published in the Saipan Tribune on April 17, 2007:

In December of 2006, the House passed the Animal Protection Act of 2006. The bill was forwarded to the Senate, where it was amended and passed. The House rejected the Senate amendments, and with good reason.

The bill includes numerous defenses or exemptions to the law, including, but not limited to: accepted methods of farming, hunting, cockfighting, and self-defense. However, the Senate changed the bill to by adding a defense to “accepted methods of training and discipline,” and an “affirmative defense” to animal neglect for impoverished people.

At first glance, such changes might be acceptable, but upon closer examination, these exceptions are gaping loopholes and they make the bill virtually meaningless.

Rather than ramble on about why I think we need a strong anti-cruelty bill – let me show you why we need a well-written anti-cruelty bill without the gaping loopholes. Let me show you how our current policies on animals affect tourism, property value, and the quality of life for our citizens. Let me show you by relaying a couple of the complaints I have received as a board member of PAWS or have experienced myself.

It is important to note, that as the most outspoken board member of PAWS, I receive countless complaints from various members of the community on a regular (sometimes daily) basis. Unfortunately, I am unable to relay all of these stories and still make my point in a concise manner. So, I’ve limited myself to three relevant stories.

(1) Tourism: Last week, a visitor to the island told me this story. She was walking at the beach and noticed a family throwing small dark objects into the ocean. She said at first, she couldn’t see what they were throwing. As she got closer, she thought it was trash. As she got even closer, she saw that the objects were puppies, which she assumed to be dead because of the way they were being handled. But as she got even closer, she realized that they were not dead. She told me she was disgusted by what she had seen, and wondered if such behavior was tolerated on the island.

Forcing an animal to swim and continually swallow seawater is abusive, and unfortunately, this story is all too common. Though I have not personally seen people throw small puppies into the lagoon, I have seen people hold puppies under water or drag a bloated puppy endlessly out into the water. As a matter of fact, I’ve stopped going to certain beaches on the weekends because I don’t want to see this kind of behavior anymore.

That’s fine –the CNMI doesn’t suffer a loss of revenue when I don’t go to the beach on the weekends. But, it sure does/will when foreign tourists start telling their friends back home about what they saw while visiting Saipan.

People who like to travel talk to other people who like to travel. That’s how travel destinations are discovered. Just ask MVA.

With this last point in mind, do you think people want to spend $1,900.00-$2,000.00, on airfare alone, to come to a place where stories circulate of puppies being dragged into the lagoon or pets being stolen for restaurant meat? Do you think travelers enjoy seeing starving animals abandoned at the beach or in the jungle? NO! These people leave Saipan feeling disturbed by what they saw or heard. Then, they go home and tell their traveling friends, who decide not to visit Saipan because these stories are depressing – and no one wants to be depressed on their vacation!

If the CNMI wants to improve tourism, it must market itself as an enjoyable vacation destination. Passing and enforcing an anti-cruelty law ensures that such behavior is not tolerated, while also protecting our tourist industry.

(2) Property value and the “affirmative defense” to animal neglect for indigent people: A woman who recently arrived on island relayed to me her difficultly in finding a house to rent. Apparently, she had looked at some nice homes in Kagman, Koblerville, and Dan Dan, however, she was unwilling to rent in these areas because of the number of stray or sick dogs in the neighborhood.

According to a local realtor, he has a hard time selling or renting properties in Kagman, Koblerville, CK, and Dan Dan because of the number of roaming, sick, or aggressive dogs. He said that on more than one occasion, some one had declined to rent a house because of the number of ill-kept animals in a neighborhood.

If the Animal Protection Act were passed with an “affirmative defense” to animal neglect for impoverished people, the owners of the ill-kept dogs would not be held responsible for depreciating the value of their neighbor’s property or negatively affecting the community. This loophole protects the individual who irresponsibly decides to keep an animal they cannot afford. The loophole does not protect the individual who responsibly tries to improve his property, his neighborhood, and his life.

By including an “affirmative defense” to animal neglect for indigent people, the government has created a gaping loophole for half the island. How many people on this island qualify as indigent or impoverished? Enough to make the anti-cruelty bill meaningless if it is passed with this exemption.

Why not provide a means of adopting or humanely euthanizing the animals of people who cannot afford to properly care for them, rather than exempt people from the law and allow these animals to pollute our neighborhoods, tourist industry, and our quality of life? DLNR offers affordable veterinary services – why not encourage and/or expect people to use these services?

Without this affirmative defense, the government is requiring the same thing from all us, regardless of your income, and that is to act responsibly.

(3) No escape from “accepted methods of training and discipline”: I remember the first time a co-worker told me of her neighbor who beats her dog. She said, “My neighbor makes my kids cry. She ties her dog up to a pole outside and just beats it. She does it all the time.” According to my co-worker, she and her children could not escape the whimpering cries of the dog, or the image of the beatings.

There was nothing I could do to help this woman. I told her to call the police and file a complaint. But she had already called the police, and they told her there was nothing they could do about it.

Now, if we had an anti-cruelty bill, without the defense to “accepted methods of training and discipline,” the police could do something to help my co-worker. They could issue a warning or a citation for animal cruelty. Ideally, citations serve as a deterrent to acting in way that negatively affects our community, while also generating money for the government through fines.

If the bill was passed with the defense to “accepted methods of training and discipline,” the neighbor could argue that she was using an “accepted method” of discipline. This is the loophole, and such loopholes leave my co-worker, and people like her, with no remedy to problems that invade the home and negatively affect the family.

In sum, including a defense to “accepted methods of training and discipline” and an “affirmative defense” to animal neglect creates two loopholes that defeat the entire purpose of the bill, that is: to protect animals from abuse and neglect, which protects our tourism, our property values, and improves the quality of life for the individual. Plus, such exemptions makes our legislature look like a joke. What’s the point of passing a law that has no meaning? It’s a waste of time and resources.

Raise the bar - contact your local representatives from the House and Senate and urge them to support the version of the Animal Protection Act without the gaping loopholes.

1 comment:

marayamidwife said...

I actually have more of a question than I do a comment. I will be moving to Saipan in January, even though I am disgusted at some of the atrocities that take place in relation to animal care.
With that being said, I desire to arrive on island with my beloved cat. Do you know what the rules are on bringing cats? I've heard there is an alternate to quarantine, i.e. in-house quarantine for a certain amount of time.
I look forward to hearing from you and hope you may have some answers.

Thanks in advance. Hope to meet you once I arrive.