Stunningly Great News Out of Puerto Rico

Posted by Stephan Otto, ALDF's Director of Legislative Affairs on September 12, 2008

­With very little fanfare in the rest of the U.S., Puerto Rico has enacted a landmark animal protection law, based, in large part, directly on Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Model Laws!

Included are felonies for neglect, abandonment, cruelty and fighting; statutory recognition of the link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans through increased penalties for those with prior animal abuse, domestic violence, child/elder abuse, or who commit the acts in front of minors; "abuse" includes emotional harm; protective orders; duty to enforce — and much more.

Also, an interesting aside — this bill sailed through their legislature. It was introduced in May — in the Governor’s hands in early July — signed into law and went in effect last month. That feat, in and of itself, is very remarkable.

Until we receive the officially-translated version, below is a draft overview of many of the new provisions. Still seemingly absent from the law, are mental health, better cost management/mitigation, possession bans and forfeiture provisions. That said, a very big advance for Puerto Rico.

Here’s to Puerto Rico!

Overview of Act 154 (P S. 2552)

* = directly from (or closely based on) ALDF Model Laws

  • Comprehensive definitions, including the establishment of minimum care standards*:
    • Quantity and quality of food sufficient to allow the growth or maintenance of normal body weight
    • Open access to adequate water of a safe temperate and in sufficient quantity to meet the needs of an animal
    • Access to a barn, house or other structure that can protect the animal from inclement weather and a place to sleep that is protected from cold, excessive heat and humidity
    • Veterinary care deemed necessary by a reasonably prudent person
    • Continuous access to an area of adequate space necessary for the health of the animal, of a suitable temperature, adequate ventilation, regular cycles of light, an environment free and clear of excess waste or other pollutants that may affect the health of the animal

  • Definition and use of "guardian" = a person who has control, custody, possession or title of an animal*
  • Definitions for "physical injury" "serious physical injury" "torture" "physical trauma"*
  • Definition of "abuse" includes any act or omission whereby a person, whether or not the guardian, puts an animal at risk of physical or emotional harm
  • Duty to respond/enforce: Includes an order that municipalities must comply with the law and give "priority attention" to cases of abuse and neglect. Cities, in coordination with the territorial government, must respond to cases of abuse, and seize and care for abused. Joint planning services, public education and information, training of law enforcement are also all mandated.
  • Duty on municipalities to respond to animals in emergency situations.
  • Emergency planning: Municipalities shall, within one year’s time, develop management plans to deal with animals in emergencies 
  • Coordination and cooperation with NGOs: Government and citizens at every level are encouraged to coordinate and cooperate with NGOs in planning, development and services related to reducing animal abuse and thwarting community violence.
  • Animal abandonment is established as a crime* and is punishable as a 4th degree felony carrying a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment and fines — and a 3rd degree felony with a maximum of 8 years imprisonment and fines if the animal suffers severe physical injury or death as a result. 
  • Confinement of animals without adequate space or with restriction of movement is an offense punishable by fines and a maximum of 90 days on a first offense and up to 6 months on any additional offenses
  • Animal Neglect is established as a crime and means a failure to provide minimum care.* It is punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Animal Neglect also includes a duty of a motorist to assist and notify law enforcement when an animal is struck by their vehicle.*
  • Aggravated Animal Neglect is established as a crime and means a failure to provide minimum care to an animal resulting in severe physical injury or death of the animal.* It is punishable by a maximum of three years imprisonment and fines.
  • Animal Abuse II means to cause any physical injury or suffering to an animal.* It is punishable as a 4th degree felony with a maximum sentence of 3 years imprisonment and fines. Notwithstanding this sentence, if an offender has a prior record of animal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse or elder abuse, or commits the offense in the presence of a minor, the penalty is a 3rd degree felony with a maximum sentence of 8 years.*
  • Animal Abuse I means causing severe physical injury or death of an animal.* It is punishable as a 3rd degree felony with a maximum sentence of 8 years imprisonment and fines. Notwithstanding this sentence, if an offender has a prior record of animal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse or elder abuse, or commits the offense in the presence of a minor, the penalty is a 2nd degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years.*
  • Aggravated Animal Abuse means to torture an animal or kill it under circumstances demonstrating serious malice or willful disregard for life.* It is punishable as an aggravated 2nd degree felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and fines. Notwithstanding this sentence, if an offender has a prior record of animal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse or elder abuse, or commits the offense in the presence of a minor, the penalty is a 2nd degree felony without the possibility of parole.*
  • Animal Fighting, including among other things, possession of fighting animals and equipment and spectatorship (but not including cock fighting) is a 2nd degree felony, however, if an offender has a prior record of animal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse or elder abuse, or commits the offense in the presence of a minor, or if as a result of the fight, an animal dies, the penalty is a 2nd degree felony without the possibility of parole.* In addition, all animals, equipment, material and/or money seized are confiscated. Seized fighting animals may be euthanized if deemed hazardous, or delivered to a shelter for the possibility of adoption.
  • Inhumane Transport of Animals is an offense punishable by a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment and fines.
  • Animal Abuse by Legal Entities is punishable with the same penalties as for individuals. In addition, the owner of a company convicted may not engage in any future management of animals. 
  • Animal Poisoning is a punishable as offense, 4th degree felony or 3rd degree felony depending upon the circumstances.
  • Use of Traps or Devices to Capture Animals without taking necessary steps to prevent an injury or unnecessary suffering of an animal is an offense on first offense and a 4th degree felony on subsequent offenses. Notwithstanding, if an animal is severely injured or dies from the trap, the penalty is a 4th degree felony on first offense
  • Euthanasia guidelines: AVMA guidelines and by a veterinarian or adequately trained staff; animal should be "cared for though out the process" and death must be certified by a vet. Violation of this is a 3rd degree felony.
  • Protective Orders must be given by courts when requested by petitioner in domestic violence cases. They may also be issued to protect shelters holding animals seized pursuant to abuse charges.
  • Seizure of Animals: Animals may be seized when a person is charged with animal abuse. 
  • Animal Breeder Regulation
  • Reimbursement of Costs/Lien: Costs of care for a seized animals is a lien on the animal and must be satisfied before an animal is returned to an owner following an acquittal or dismissal of charges.* If such costs are not satisfied within 30 days following the resolution of the criminal case, the animal is forfeited. Costs may be still be collected in such cases, through a separate civil action.
  • Experimentation on Live Animals: Restrictions on scientific research at universities — "absolutely essential" criteria; experiments are prohibited for educational purposes at the elementary, intermediate and higher levels. 
  • Pay Fines or Go to Jail: If an offender cannot pay a fine imposed, they must go to jail and earn an offset of $50 per day served

Versions of the new law i­s available here in English and Spanish. (PDF)


5 thoughts on “Stunningly Great News Out of Puerto Rico

  1. Tom Lincoln says:

    “Also, an interesting aside — this bill sailed through their legislature. It was introduced in May — in the Governor’s hands in early July — signed into law and went in effect last month. That feat, in and of itself, is very remarkable.”

    The bill’s drafting was actually done at the Puerto Rico Bar Association’s Special Committee on Animal Rights. See my post at Animal Rights in Puerto Rico at:
    http://animalrightspr.blogspot.com/2008/08/ley-para-el-bienestar-y-la-proteccin-de.html

    The Special Commission is made up of lawyers and non-lawyers. Now comes the educational effort we will be launching in schools, to judges, prosecutors and police, as well as citizen groups.

    ALDF Model Laws did play a crucial role, and we are grateful for all your work.

  2. Thanks for publishing this post. This legislation was drafted by members of the Puerto Rico Bar Association’s Special Commission on Animal Rights, of which I am a member. We did use ALDF’s Model Laws and are grateful for your efforts.

    The link you provide does not work. Try this one:

    http://www.oslpr.org/download/es/2008/0154s2552.pdf

  3. ed lewis says:

    If only we could get the population to subscribe to the spirit of the law. Education in this area of animal welfare is sorely lacking.

  4. Iraida Hernandez says:

    Education is the most important thing that is lacking in dealing with Animal Rights in Puerto Rico. It will be very interesting to see how this law will be enforce without first addressing the neuter/spay issue.

  5. Clive Hickson says:

    Well done, Puerto Rico. I’m sure that countries around the world would do well to look at the rules contained in this legislation. Including many municipalities both in the U.S. and Canada.

    You are right, Ed and Iraida, education in animal rights is key. But many compassionate people will take heart in knowing that these rules are in place. Once they know that their reportings MUST be taken seriously by the authorities, and that action must be taken, an increasing number of cases will be reported. Governmental responders must be more proactive also, and cases of neglect, abuse etc. must be prosecuted in a visible manner, with punishments also reported in the news media. This would educate abusers to the fact that their cruelties do not go unnoticed….or unpunished.

    Abuses of animals by human-kind go back to the dawn of our civilization, and are based on our perception of them as “belongings”, a source of food, or for some other human gratification. Our lack of understanding of animals and their feelings, which allows us to abuse them, won’t be reversed in just a couple of years. Compassion, public awareness and, regretfully, time, are the key.