Guilty verdict in Puerto Rico horse abuse case spurs hope among animal rights activists

By Danica Coto, AP
Thursday, September 16, 2010

PRico applauds guilty verdict in horse abuse case

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A man accused of dragging a stubborn horse alongside his truck has become the first person convicted by a Puerto Rico jury under an animal protection law enacted after dogs were thrown to their deaths from a bridge.

Georgenan Lopez, 24, is scheduled to be sentenced in November and could face up to 15 years in prison, prosecutor Andres Fernandez said Thursday.

The horse has recovered from most of its injuries last February, but it still limps and can never be ridden, said Lisa Embree, who runs a horse rescue group in northwestern Puerto Rico that adopted the injured animal.

“It is pathetic what happens in Puerto Rico to these animals,” said Embree, who nicknamed the horse “Milagritos”, or “Little Miracles.”

Animal activists hailed Wednesday’s conviction as evidence the U.S. Caribbean territory is slowly recognizing animals’ rights and prosecuting cruelty cases.

“Things are starting to happen,” said Adrienne Galler, president of Puerto Rico’s animal control officers association. “Everything is taking a long time.”

Victor Collazo, former president of the Medical Veterinarian Association, said the verdict will give people hope that complaints about animal abuse will not fall on deaf ears.

“We cannot be happy that a human being might be going to jail, but as a society, we have to understand that animals deserve to be respected,” he said.

Lopez’s attorneys did not return messages left with their secretary at the Office of Legal Services in Mayaguez.

The animal protection law was approved in August 2008, nearly a year after authorities charged the owner and two employees of a private animal control company with taking away dozens of pet dogs and some cats from public housing projects and throwing them off a bridge.

The three were acquitted, and international anger led more than 50,000 people worldwide to sign a petition threatening to boycott travel to the Caribbean island. Tourism officials estimated Puerto Rico lost more than $15 million as a result.

It is possible Lopez will appeal the verdict, but the message remains that people will be prosecuted for mistreaing animals, said Yeidy Velazquez, president of Citizens for Animal Shelter in Aguadilla.

“It is a triumph for us,” she said.

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