Positive Change in Puerto Rico

Posted by Dana Campbell, ALDF Attorney on May 22, 2009

Sand, sun, gently rolling waves-where better to break the spell of a long snowy upstate New York winter than on a Caribbean island? Animal lovers in San Juan Puerto Rico beckoned ALDF for a visit to observe and assist with local efforts to protect and enhance the lives of animals there, and I happily volunteered to go.

Edi Vazquez, founder of Save a SatoMy first stop was to meet with Edi Vazquez, a lawyer and longtime clerk for one of the federal judges there, who also happened to found an organization called Save a Sato, which rescues as many of the satos (abandoned street dogs) as they can, feeds them and cleans them up, and puts them on airplanes to shelters in the Eastern U.S. who have extra space for them so they may be adopted. (Finding out that there were shelters who actually had extra space for dogs outside their own area was a bit of a revelation in itself for me.) Unfortunately the satos could be seen everywhere as we drove across the northern edge of the island from Carolina to San Juan, though I was told they are not nearly as abundant since Save a Sato’s work began. Even my airport shuttle driver had heard of the group’s efforts and referred to the volunteers as “angels.” Edi has since moved on to a new group called All Satos Rescue, but the work continues.

Frances Rios de Moran, Esq.Also tragic are all the abandoned starving cats I saw at night, but apparently because they tend to stay hidden from sight during the day (unlike the dogs), and are difficult to catch, their plight is less publicized. I later leaned that there are fledgling trap-neuter-release efforts underway, but not nearly enough.

Next up was a visit with the Court Unit Executive (what we would call the Chief Clerk of the Court) for the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, Frances Rios de Moran, who was extremely interested in learning more about animal law generally, and ALDF specifically. A smart, elegant woman who has made dogs, specifically boxers, part of her family most of her adult life, she and I agreed to chat more about the possibility of setting up an animal law CLE there, something she could apparently facilitate arranging due to her position.

Attorneys Cindy Badano and Yolanda AlvarezI was fortunate to meet with two inspiring, energizing attorneys working to lead the legal efforts to protect animals, Yolanda Alvarez the immediate past president, and Cindy Badano the future president, of Puerto Rico’s Commission for the Welfare of Animals. The Commission is the group responsible for drafting and pushing through the legislature a year ago the wide slate of new animal laws based in part on ALDF’s Model Laws. There is so much work yet to be done there, and the group is now working on multiple fronts, for example to bring animal law classes to the law schools there, to draft and introduce even better laws, and to upgrade the quality of the animal shelters.

Dana with law students in Puerto RicoMy dual speeches for the law students and public at InterAmerican University, the original purpose for my visit, were well-attended and received. The topics? Animal Law 101, which covered the basics of animal law’s development and growth, practice areas and career options; and the state of animal protection laws in the U.S., an overview of what the law does and does not cover and some trends we are seeing in new legislation. Perhaps the best moment of all was when a Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) member’s young sister, age 12 or 13, asked whether there are things that kids her age could do now to help protect animals, like write to legislators. This engaged the audience and I in a good discussion on how even kids can do so much for animals. I hope the future holds more compassionate, aware, committed persons like her.

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