After the Webinar: Always on the Map – An Introduction to Animal Law in the US Territories. Q&A with Kate Youssouf

Webinar presenter Kate Youssouf answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Always on the Map: An Introduction to Animal Law in the US Territories. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: What is the function or role of the animal control officer there in Samoa? 

Kate Youssouf: Well, animal control officers in American Samoa are like animal control officers anywhere else. They are responsible for securing animals, generally including domestic and wild species that may be lost, abandoned, that pose a threat, that may be a victim. So, just like any other member of law enforcement, they respond to emergency calls and offer assistance to law enforcement in animal cases. Now in American Samoa, there are no true animal cruelty laws on the books, like we know stateside. And hopefully, the animal control officer role will expand once the legislature gets some more thorough, more robust animal protection, anti-cruelty laws on the books. But for right now, given the increasing population, stray and abandoned animals on American Samoa, and the very limited vet care, and how overrun the local organizations are with attending to spay and neuter clinics, animals that have been injured, identifying animals that are owned. What the animal control officer’s role here is largely going to be attending to the stray and abandoned cats and dogs that are on island and making sure that we are increasing a culture of safeguarding animal welfare and that animals can be protected, but also making sure that the animals that we have ownership of, we take responsibility for. And that include making sure that we’re not neglecting them and that we safeguard their welfare, and also promoting animal education, responsibility, education, and taking care of your animal may include getting its spayed and neutered, getting them vaccinated, using identifications. But hopefully, that role will grow to assist prosecution of animals once there’s more thorough cruelty laws on the books.

Host: That’s really interesting. We had an audience member just text in here. We here in Barbados, the ACO only deals with dogs while other stakeholders collect cats and other animals. So, it’s interesting how different areas handle animals differently.

Kate Youssouf: Yes, definitely, And that really speaks to what I said at the end of the presentation. Before working in any territory, and this is what we do at Animal Legal Defense Fund, it’s really important to connect with people who are located in the territory and who are already doing the hard work. And not to come in and assume that because, even if you have all this experience from a jurisdiction state side, that you know best. States side jurisdictions are very different than island territories. Not only because territories are territories, and they have their unique status there. But  island territories are different and have different needs. And there’s also different culture and different systems and different responsibilities. And so, you really want to make sure that you are, you want to build relationships and offer assistance. And that’s what we should be doing. But do so in a conscientious way, in a culturally considerate way and investigate, first by talking with people who are in that space. Because like in Barbados, there may be some different responsibilities depending on the job title.


Audience Question: Is there licensing or data based tracking of dogs or companion animals in each of the territories? 

Kate Youssouf: That is a great question, and not to my knowledge that hasn’t come up, but that is certainly something I can look into. If you want to e-mail me, I’ve put my e-mail, my personal e-mail on this slide. There are licensing requirements, but in terms of like a database, that is not something that I’m aware of at least on some of the territories. And if it is, given how many animals actually aren’t registered when they’re on islands and how many animals really exist and roamed freely because of the different cultures. I mean, your housing is very different in an island territory. You don’t have the same housing borders that you would in, like a development state side. So, animals regularly run freely, and so sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain like, who is the custodian who is the owner of this animal. And so, in that, even if there did exist the database, it’s unlikely that it would really be truly representative of the island population.

Host: I just love when we have our audience members are able to share in information about their unique situations and such. Mariana was just sharing, Guam has a pet licensing law, and database for them is a simple Excel spreadsheet. So, Mariana, amazing. Isn’t it wonderful?

Kate Youssouf: That’s great.


Audience Question: Has cultural sensitivity ever been defeated? Such as an abuser cannot escape conviction and punishment just because of the claim it’s my culture. The culture defense seems to be to get overused. She says in the media, if not in the courts. What are your thoughts? 

Kate Youssouf: Absolutely. So, I agree, like, I think there are a lot of arguments that are made out there by members of the community. But then also defendants that this is my culture, and that this is important. But the fact of the matter is, and this really comes up with animal fighting, it is a federal law, and we need to recognize that, that is the law that exists. And that an argument, this is my culture, is not going to defeat, it’s not going to be an affirmative defense for a federal crime, but more philosophically. I think we need to start engaging in meaningful conversations with each other about what actually is representative of our culture and thinking about, well, what are the tenants of the culture of this community, this territory? And what about animal fighting is representative of that culture. And even if it is representative, how does keeping that culture actually hurt our community and animals are members of that community. And even when something is tradition, we have to recognize that many things in history have been considered traditional. Well, we haven’t carried all of our traditions forward with us. And that’s just to say, we need to be mindful of the things that we include in our culture and decide whether they are the right things that we want to have within our culture, as a society. And considering how harmful animal fighting, if the animals, but also the nexus of animal fighting with other crimes, drug offenses, gambling, racketeering, etc. We need to really be mindful of what we’re saying, if we want to include this type of culture and what that means for the safety of the human and animal community.


Audience Question: How many crimes or cases of abuse, sexual assault, cases of elder and children, child abuse have been seen in these areas and the potential link to animal abuse done by the same perpetrators or potential individuals? So, in other words, is the link between animal abuse and other human abuses, do the territories understand that linkage? 

Kate Youssouf: So, in terms of the number of cases, I don’t have raw number for you. And that is something at least, Animal Legal Defense Fund is working on getting. It is really being able to track those cases so that we have a database of that information. In terms of how the territories understand the link between intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, and animal cruelty. I mean, none of the territories are a monolith. And I don’t think I could ever say that all of the territory of Guam, all of the residents of Puerto Rico have a firm understanding of the link. But I will say, there are very knowledgeable, experienced advocates, who are out there in each of the territories, that are aware of the link and that are educating the community about the link and how animal cruelty can lead to, or be connected with other forms of criminal offenses, and other forms of violence. It’s certainly not a causal predictor, but it can be a sign. And that’s why, at least in Puerto Rico, we have a there’s a law on the books that says, domestic violence needs to be inclusive of animal cruelty. Because we know that individuals who engage in domestic abuse may harm the animal as a means of manipulating their partner, or a child, as a form of abuse, to essentially initiate trauma. And so, I think if we’re looking at the laws, as how well does the territory know that this exists, Puerto Rico is probably the leader, because it has that law on the books. If we’re looking at the community knowledge, I would say there are definitely advocates out there that are aware. But in terms of whether this is common knowledge for an everyday person who lives on island, I think that we can do better within the territory. Then I say we, I mean, the collective we, of people in animal protection spaces in making sure that information about the link. And that means connecting with law enforcement and prosecutors as well. And then in making sure that they communicate what they are seeing is something that is out there. Information that is out there and regular and easily accessible to an average member of society and is something that is common knowledge eventually. But terms of a raw numbers, how many cases, I would love to be able to give you that answer. But it’s not something that we have information for yet.


Audience Question: So, in a nutshell, what is the difference, again, between a territory versus a state? 

Kate Youssouf: Absolutely. So, in terms of the rights that states are allocated. So, states, in terms of government, if you are a state, you are represented in the United States with two US senators, and with delegates to congress, those are your members of House of representatives. You are represented in government and can vote on legislation that is applied to the entire country. Members of territories do not have US senators at all, and they are only allotted one delegate to the House of representatives. So, in certain states, the bigger states, there are many representatives in the house. Island Territories are smaller. So, they do only have one delegate, but that delegate cannot vote on federal legislation like everybody else votes. So, when there’s a bill that the House is wanting to become a law, it’s drafting, it will start in a committee. That committee is based on a certain subject, and the committee gets to vote on that bill, and whether it should go to the House floor for all of the members of the House of representatives to vote. That is where a territory delegate can vote. Once that bill gets to a house floor, they can no longer vote. So, that is something that is I think one of the more important things. Also remember, that individuals from territory’s cannot vote for president. They can serve in the armed forces. They do not pay federal income tax, but they do pay other federal taxes. And they are considered unincorporated, which just means that they’re not a state. And, thus, are not given all the rights of a state, which means equal representation within the government. Now, for a territory to become a state, is really what’s required, is for the population of the territory to vote, for the local legislature to essentially approve, say, “Okay. We want to become a state,” which is important for self-determination, then request congress to make them a state. Which seems pretty simple, all you have to do is ask congress. Congress, as we all know, it takes a very long time to do things. And can take a very long time to decide on a question of statehood and has in the past. Utah, it took congress 50 years to respond to Utah’s request about whether to become a state. Remember, some of those facts that I brought up in the beginning of the presentation. It took congress 50 years to give the citizens of Guam citizenship. Congress still has not created a federal law that allows citizenship for American Samoa. So, while the process on paper may seem relatively easy, it actually is entirely under the will of congress to decide whether a territory can become a state, and then have all the equal rights and representation that people in New Jersey, New York, and California, and Oregon, and Washington, and Texas have in government. And that’s what makes it unincorporated/


Audience Question:  Kate, you talk through a really great process and way of thinking about animal laws in the territories? Can we use the same infrastructure or process or way of thinking that you shared here in understanding our thinking or informing our thinking when working with Native American communities?

Kate Youssouf: Absolutely, I think so. I think, first, understanding that the jurisdiction in which the residents reside that you’re dealing with is distinct from a state side jurisdiction, or state rather, is incredibly important, because that speaks to the power of that jurisdiction. The power of the federal government has over that jurisdiction, right. And with the territories at least, congress can come in and legislate in local affairs very easily. So being considerate, the dynamics of the jurisdiction is very important, and considering tribal nations very different from state or territory. But then also Tribal Nations within themselves are very diverse. They are not a monolith. And so, making sure that our approaches not only consider the fact that they’re tribal nations, but that this particular nation is important. And then the communities within that tribe, those tribal nation, are also diverse, and respecting their diversity. And so, I think this speaks to the need of doing a lot more work on the front end of investigation, research, creating conversation and relationships, so that you make sure that you are culturally sensitive. You are mindful of the jurisdiction, and the limits and power and resources at its disposal. And that you are community inclusive, and that you really almost work as an invisible hand behind the local people who should really be leading the cause in their community. And also, recognizing the incredibly tragic and complicated history that the United States, namely the federal government, has with tribal nations. I think anyone would be remiss if they didn’t consider those dynamics.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Always on the Map: An Introduction to Animal Law in the US Territories.  

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