Animal protection statute threatened, says veterinarian
Veterinarian Yesenia Fernandez Santos spoke out in favor of the newest animal welfare law Friday, saying it was a far reaching legislation which only needs to be understood better.
However, she said an animal registry is necessary to protect people and animals from the threat of rabies. The registry has been an unpopular measure which also must be explained before it can be effective, she said.
Law 154 -- known as the Law for the Welfare and Protection of Animals -- signed by Gov. An�bal Acevedo Vil� in August 2008, is considered the best animal protection law to date.
Fernandez testified in a public hearing of the Senate Natural and Environmental Resources Committee which was considering eliminating the 2008 law and integrating it into yet another proposed law.
Senate Bill 1811, introduced by Sen. Melinda Romero, would eliminate Law 154 and two earlier ones. The bill would create the Welfare Code for Animal, Wildlife and Flora and supersede the laws of Regional Animal Refuge (Law 36 of 1984), the New Wildlife Law (Law 241 of 1999) as well as Law 154.
Fernandez said that Law 154 should not be included in Bill 1811, because a law of such length would become diluted within the measure, she said at the hearing presided by Sen. Ramon Diaz Hernandez substituting Chairwoman Luz M. Santiago Gonzalez.
'The deficiencies of that statute have nothing to do with the content of the law, but rather with the limited knowledge of the law, on the part of the general public, the police as well as prosecutors and judges.'
The law covers a number of issues relating to domestic animals, including classing many actions of mistreatment, abuse or abandonment as felonies, with harsh penalties.
Despite her endorsement of Law 154, she suggested in her testimony that the government mount an anti-rabies campaign in the same way they did for dengue and flu.
'Since rabies is a deadly illness and endemic in our country, the veterinarians have been advocating an animal registry for years,' said Fernandez. 'I am happy to know that this piece of legislature is considering this action. However, I should mention that the way the animal registry has been developed, the people see it as just another tax and not a solution to the problem of rampant animal overpopulation. If we want to change that mentality, we must educate the people about rabies and its implications, as much for the sake of our health as for that of the animals.'
She noted that since the bill provides for the free registry of farm animals, it would be wise to begin with mandatory rabies vaccination for dogs, cats, cows and horses, which are the link between humans and our 'principal carrier of rabies, the mongoose.'
The Health Department has long endorsed the need for mandatory rabies vaccines, but have consistently shown figures which indicate that only one or two cases of rabies have among humans have ever been reported in Puerto Rico.