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Guam legislature passes PAWS Act

Federal spending bill includes stricter enforcement of anti-cruelty laws

Guam senators today passed a bill that would overhaul Guam’s animal cruelty laws, amid increasing incidents of pet killings and other forms of animal abuse on island.

Bill 185-35, titled Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) Act seeks to strengthen Guam’s laws to properly protect animals.

The bill, also known as Pugua's law, was prompted by last year's killing of a dog owned by a Yigo family. Loopholes in the law resulted in the acquittal of the alleged dog killer.

The Guam Animals in Need has since reported a number pet killings on island.

The PAWS Act , authored by Sen. Sabina Perez, clarifies Guam’s existing standards for animal cruelty and includes a new distinction between animal abuse and animal neglect to more easily allow for citations of the latter. It also adds new pre-conviction processes, which include procedures for properly seizing abused animals and ensuring for their care. it also establishes post-conviction processes, which include provisions for community service, education, registration for felony convictions, and court-ordered mental health care and treatment.

According to a press release from the senator's office, the bill is the product of extensive work with numerous stakeholders and legal professionals, including the Office of the Attorney General of Guam.

"Our community is hurt and outraged by recent reports of animal cruelty cases. These traumatic incidents highlight the need to better address violence towards animals. The PAWS Act is our effort to update our laws to meet the moral and ethical standards our community expects of our statutes," Perez said.

"The impact of the PAWS Act will be far-reaching. Studies show a staggeringly high correlation between animal cruelty and domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse. With the PAWS Act, which will be known as 'Pugua’s law' once signed by the governor, we can better protect both animals and humans," she added.

In Washington, D.C, the $2.3 trillion legislative and spending package includes a language that protects animal welfare.

Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) said American horses secured some important wins, most importantly with the inclusion of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to end the era of same-day doping of horses. And while the spending bill omitted a landmark compromise measure to dramatically strengthen the 1970 Horse Protection Act and ban horse soring in America, the bill does double funding for the Act to allow at least some enforcement of current restrictions against the barbaric practice, according to the animal rights groups.

The spending bill includes, in the Agriculture section, an increase in $500,000 for the USDA’s Office of Inspector General to enforce the federal animal fighting law. And the explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus spending bill asks the Department of Justice to step up its efforts in this regard.

The bill mandated the department to "continue to comply with Congressional direction to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of animal welfare crimes" and "to report not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act on actions it is taking to enforce such laws."

The report would include the number of prosecutions and seizures, broken out by litigating component and/or district, for fiscal years 2019, 2020, and 2021.

"The introduction of the (Animal Cruelty Enforcement) Act in both chambers also comes in the wake of seven recent state- and territory-based investigations by our team of illegal trafficking of animals for fighting, exposing syndicates collectively selling tens of thousands of animals across the world for fighting pits," said Wayne Pacelle, president of AWA-AWF.

Pacelle said the investigation started after AWA-AWF's examination of live-animal import records from the Guam Department of Agriculture and detailed more than 500 illegal shipments by 60 state-side cockfighters over the last three years.

"When you look at dogfighting, bestiality, and other malicious forms of cruelty, you begin to recognize that animal abuse is just one part of a matrix of lawlessness and a lack of empathy," Pacelle said.

"There is a significant connection between animal cruelty and violence against humans, including domestic violence, child exploitation, sexual abuse, gang activity, drug trafficking, and other crimes. Dogfighting and cockfighting almost always involve illegal gambling, while the illegal movement of fighting birds has been tied to outbreaks of avian influenza, which is both an animal health threat and a zoonotic disease threat," he added.

The ACE Act was introduced by Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in the House and Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in the Senate.

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