Development & Aid, Environment, Tierramerica

New Ammunition to Fight Abuse of Animals

MEXICO CITY, Apr 28 2002 (IPS) - Thousands of animals in the Mexican capital suffer torture, abandonment or laboratory testing. There is a new law to protect them, but activists say it is not enough. A new law against animal mistreatment, in force since last month, is far from reversing the trauma of thousands of species that suffer and die each year, victims of abandonment, torture and surgical practice in the Mexican capital, say activists, pointing out that the solution lies in other approaches.

The new law updates types of crimes and imposes new fines, but like its 1981 precursor, it is not sufficient for halting the abuse of animals, says Emma Saldaña, coordinator of the Active Association for the Suppression of Cruelty to Animals, founded in Mexico in 1976 and one of the few groups of its kind.

The authorities' ignorance about the laws against animal mistreatment, their reluctance to attend to the complaints filed, but above all the lack of a culture that protects animal rights and bans their use in experiments are the problems that must be attacked, Saldaña told Tierramérica.

The cases of cruelty to animals, which range from mutilations to sexual abuse, are detailed in the hundreds of files held by the handful of local activist organizations that are trying to stop such practices.

In several schools in the capital, students learn biology carrying out live dissections on small animals – like mice, frogs and rabbits – that, after their “scientific use”, often end up agonizing in the garbage.

At the medical school of the National Polytechnic Institute, one of Mexico's most prestigious universities, students each week operate on approximately 20 dogs, which die after being subjected to several medical procedures, sutures and mistakes made by these “beginners”.

In most countries, the use of dogs for human medical practice is banned because they are an intelligent mammal and due to their thousand-year social relationship to people.

But it is a different story in the Mexican capital. The new law says that live animal dissections may no longer be practiced at schools and high schools, but may continue at universities.

On the global scale, more than 100 million animals are utilized each year in scientific research. They are subjected to tests involving medications, genetic mutations, tumors and numerous diseases.

It is clear that animals feel, perceive, express emotions, solve problems and have memory, according to a recent study by the Neurology Center at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM).

In the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights, promoted in 1978 by civil society groups and later adopted by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), it is stipulated that “all animal life has the right to be respected.”

According to the Declaration, “the coexistence of species implies a recognition the human species of the right of other animal species to live, ” and “any animal which is dependent on man has the right to proper sustenance and care. “

But awareness of these rights is scarce in many places around the world, including Mexico City, where local activists have reported all kinds of abuses, many involving family pets.

They cite examples of cases in which people have abandoned their pets without food or water in enclosed lots, keep them shut away in small cages, or use them in zoophilia practices.

As far as the law, abuse of animals is a misdemeanor. Lilian Cisneros, inspector for the Active Association for the Suppression of Cruelty against Animals, says that in the five years she has been working on the issue, the largest fine she has seen imposed against an animal abuser was 1,200 pesos (around 133 dollars).

According to the new statute that entered into force last month, the maximum penalty an individual faces for mistreating animals is a 36-hour stint behind bars and 105,000 pesos (some 11,600 dollars).

The new law drew a flood of criticism for its supposed legal imperfections and opposition from those who use animals in experiments or who support bullfighting.

The authorities are currently working on drafting regulations for the law.

Meanwhile, in Mexico City's dog pounds, every day dozens of canines will continue to be killed by shooting a bolt into the skull or electrocuted. And in the streets, stray cats and dogs will continue to be the victims of cruelty, being skinned alive or set on fire.

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