September 28, 2009
Puerto Rico Forum Discusses Animal Protection
by Kelly Coladarci
Since its inception in 1977, FEPA (Federacion Protectora de Animales de Puerto Rico, Inc.) has held an annual forum to discuss topics of local concern. This year's dialogue was particularly noteworthy given the new Animal Cruelty Law 154, approved on August 4, 2008.
Growing interest in helping
Interest in animal welfare has been increasing, along with a sense of excitement over plans to take action supported by the new legislation. Several law schools have been active in the area of animal cruelty. Inter American University and the University of Puerto Rico both have student chapters that provide legal support for cruelty issues. The Univ of Puerto Rico has been successful in getting a related course approved and Inter American is working toward that same goal.
Under the new law, the state appointed two inspectors for each municipality. We had the honor of having the lead inspector for the state police and three of his colleagues attend the forum. It was an opportunity to talk about bridging the gap between law enforcement and animal welfare, using as examples cruelty cases and dogfighting, where collaboration is essential.
Also present at the forum was Puerto Rico’s veterinary medical association, Colegio de Medicos Veterinarios. This was the first year they attended, representing a large number of the 250 veterinarians practicing on the island.
Topic of concern
In addition to the new law, the forum had one other focus: that of “rescuers versus hoarders,” a common problem we face globally. The audience was well-versed in the issues and we acknowledged the controversy that can arise—usually for religious, moral and/or personal reasons. Still, we stuck to facts in an attempt to be realistic. We began by examining the scientific definition of hoarder, as opposed to someone who rescues animals. Hoarding is a well-known condition and we looked at common statistics, along with the psychological and characteristic behaviors of a hoarder. We talked about how easily overcrowding can result in animal cruelty.
With no real standards in place for “adequate” care, the discussion identified already widely accepted quantifiable measures. We thought about how improvements could be made and what factors need to be taken into account when animals’ care is not satisfactory. We talked about the dangers of disease transmission and human injury, housing considerations and enrichment. This last is necessary and too-often overlooked.
In the bigger picture, quality of life is what is important. Whether for lack of knowledge or resources, rescue efforts normally focus solely on animals' physical well being without taking into account their behavior and emotional state. Clear warning signs of problems in these areas actually exist, including repetitive action and self-mutilation, along with a declining overall appearance.
It was encouraging to have so many diverse participants come together on behalf of animals. Animal welfare in Puerto Rico is still somewhat in its infancy, but the mood among animal advocates is positive. Event attendees seemed enthusiastic at the idea of being a part of this movement, and to understand that working together will allow help promote large-scale positive change.