Laws for paws: Judge's ruling leads to new pet bills
Among U.S. territories, Guam ranked No. 4 in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s best-to-worst rankings report that assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each state and territory’s animal protection laws.
In the 2018 annual report released in January 2019, Guam gets plus points for its wide range of care standards and requirements including food, water, shelter care and space, as well as the felony provisions for first-time neglect. The territory’s weaknesses include the lack of prohibition on sexual assault on an animal, and the lack of statutorily authorized post-conviction possession bans. Guam also gets negative points for allowing cockfighting. (The report was prepared prior to the federal ban cockfighting).
The U.S. territories are ranked as follows: 1) District of Columbia, 2) U.S. Virgin Islands, 3) Puerto Rico, 4) Guam, 5) American Samoa and 6) Northern Marianas.
“The disparity in various jurisdictions’ animal protection laws demonstrates the unfortunate reality that, in many places, the law significantly underrepresents animals’ interests. However, the rankings report also presents an opportunity to improve laws everywhere,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund states in the report.
ALDF is legal group that takes to court “high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm.” It also provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors in their fight against animal cruelty, supports animal protection legislation, and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the field of animal law.
Read related stories
“New animal protection laws continue to be implemented around the country by motivated lawmakers and their constituents—just like you,” ALDF states. “As new laws are enacted and utilized, states and territories can learn from one another, building upon statutes that have been successful in other jurisdictions to create strong and effective protections for animals.”
Superior Court Judge Michael Bordallo’s controversial decision to acquit a dog slayer in Yigo pointed to the apparent loopholes in Guam’s anti-animal cruelty law. The case against Wayne Cruz, the judge said, did not build evidence of “cruelty,” pointing out that the animals’ quick death spared them from suffering. The ruling spawned two bills in the Guam Legislature.
Sen. Louse Muna’s Bill 48-35 creates a new misdemeanor charge of “animal abuse in the second degree.” It covers physical injury to the animal short of death and penalizes anyone who fails to provide minimal care or “impounds or injures any animal belonging to another without legal authority or consent of the owner.”
Bill 49-35, introduced the next day by Sens. Sabina Flores Perez, James C. Moylan, Joe S. San Agustin and Amanda L. Shelton and would appear to fix the problems in the existing law referenced by Judge Bordallo: “Animal abuse in the first degree includes the act of cruelly or maliciously causing the death of an animal.” “Egregious examples of such animal abuse, which result in serious harm, injury or death, shall constitute a felony regardless of the manner or speed with which the violence was inflicted.”
April is Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, and it brings to light the way humans treat animals.
“During my term I acted on at least two bills, got them passed, to try to improve the lives of domestic pets on Guam,” said Judi Guthertz, a former senator and an animals rights advocate.
Guthertz formed an alliance with [former Lt. Gov. and GOP Sen.] Ray Tenorio to make dog fighting illegal. “My understanding was, the information I had from different sources that dog fighting was participated in by law enforcement officers, by prominent families and that had to stop. It must be stopped by law.” And it was by law, though it reportedly continues, much further underground.
Despite ALDF’s thumbs-up on Guam laws for animal pet care, Guthertz said animal mistreatment remains obvious. “The way domestic pets are treated. Tying them up on short leashes. No proper water access. In the sun. A lot of boonie dogs are kept that way.”
The former senator said she’s proud of playing a role in increasing support for GAIN and encouraging more public reporting of animal mistreatment. She expects more from the new crop of lawmakers.
“The senators now are younger and they likely grew up with animals. The older senators at the legislature when we were there, they didn’t seem to care about [animal cruelty] too much.”
Guthertz is encouraged by the bills in this area being offered by younger lawmakers. “So, the judges can make the right decision and not claim to have no authority. I still think the judge could have done more, but I’m not holding it against him. If he interprets the laws as weak, then we have to fix the laws.”
While they may be laws that seek to protect animals, there are no existing statutes that address the emotional and financial stress on families, whose pets were victims of abuse.
“We’re heart-broken,” said Anna Marie Alegre, a resident of Barrigada, who owned a Shit-zu that was recently fatally hit by a car. “There should be a law that would make reckless drivers pay restitution to families that they hurt, like paying the cost of cremation, which cost us $500.”
Cyrus Luhr, president of Guam Animals in Need, said many jurisdictions in the United States prioritize addressing animal abuse “because it’s really the canary in the coal mine. You don’t see the violence and problems they’re having indoors, but the animal abuse you see outside is the way to get your foot in the door.”