San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
animal abuse

New cases of animal abuse spark criticism of President Solís, lawmakers

Public outrage sparked by Duke, the mutt that lost part of his upper jaw after suffering an apparent machete attack earlier this month, has turned toward President Luis Guillermo Solís and the Legislative Assembly. Some are pointing fingers at Solís and lawmakers for failing to pass the animal welfare bill that has been stalled in the Assembly for months.

Legislators from various parties filibustered discussion of the law in April, filing dozens of motions against it.

The widespread criticism prompted an official response last week from Solís, who issued a public statement outlining his support for the bill and other animal welfare initiatives. He said his administration “has been consistent with its commitment to repudiate all kinds of animal abuse.”

Animal welfare group Asociación Vida Animal Costa Rica made Duke’s story public on its Facebook page, where the organization asked people to donate money to help pay for the dog’s medical expenses. After the attack, Duke’s snout was only attached by a slim piece of tissue, veterinarians reported.

A portion of his upper jaw had to be removed, including his nose and most of his teeth. The mutt, believed to be around two years old, survived the procedure and is currently recovering well, the group reported on Facebook. Thousands of people have been following daily updates on Duke’s recovery.

People also are posting photographs of their pets with support messages using the hashtag #FuerzaDuke. Many of those messages also call on lawmakers to pass the animal welfare bill. If legislators fail to pass the bill during the current legislative session, which lasts until the end of the month, Solís promised to prioritize the bill during the next legislative session, when he gets to set the priorities.

Under existing Costa Rican laws, killing or harming an animal is considered a minor offense, sanctioned with a maximum of ₡200,000 (some $370). The proposed bill would set prison sentences ranging from six months to three years and monetary fines of up to $1,600 for causing the death of an animal. It would also penalize dog and cock fighting.

Opposition to the bill in the legislature has come mostly from the Libertarian Movement’s Otto Guevara, who has refused to negotiate and filed more than 80 motions against the bill. Guevara believes the bill would outlaw Tico traditions like bull-fighting and horse parades.

Others like the National Liberation Party’s Juan Marín have said they’ll block the initiative “by using any available procedure authorized by legislative regulations.”

Lawmakers are currently on a mid-year vacation and will return Monday for the last two weeks of the current legislative session.

More animal abuse cases

On the same day animal welfare activists reported that Duke was undergoing surgery, residents of Perez Zeledón, in the southern part of San José province, reported another attack on a dog. The dog had been abandoned on a road with serious burns and blows to its body.

On Tuesday, reports of a third dog abuse case went viral. Channel 7 Telenoticias reported that a man attacked the dog with a machete in Desamparados, just south of the capital, after the dog entered his property. Veterinarians said the dog had at least 10 serious wounds on her head, torso and legs, and that she remains in critical condition.

Citizen referendum?

The Assembly’s environmental affairs committee approved the draft bill of the animal welfare bill on March 3. The full text has been published in the official newspaper La Gaceta, meaning it must now be passed by the full assembly in two separate rounds of voting.

Solís called on lawmakers Tuesday to stop delaying the bill’s approval, saying he’s sure the majority of them share his interest “in ending these barbaric situations.” He also said he believes most of them agree that the bill would help reduce animal abuse.

Passing the Animal Welfare Law was one of Solís’ campaign promises.

In the meantime, animal rights groups are moving forward with actions to force lawmakers to sign the bill into law. Starting this month, hundreds of volunteers are collecting signatures across the country to put the animal welfare bill up for public referendum.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal gave volunteers 10 months to collect the nearly 160,000 signatures — 5 percent of registered voters — required to hold a referendum.

The Association for Animal Welfare and Protection, one of the groups leading the collection, reported last week that volunteers have collected more than half of the required signatures.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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