Image: Stray dog in Puerto Rico
Brennan Linsley  /  AP file
Two city dog pound employees prepare to transport a stray dog in San Juan, on Oct. 26. Dozens of pets were seized in October from housing projects and hurled from a bridge to their deaths. An investigation by The Associated Press later showed that such inhumane methods of killing pets and stray animals were routine, with thousands of animals brutally slain.
updated 12/12/2007 2:24:34 PM ET 2007-12-12T19:24:34

Puerto Rican officials launched a campaign Tuesday to improve the treatment of animals after allegations of inhumane killings of cats and dogs drew international condemnation and led to millions of dollars in lost tourism.

The island will build new shelters and create animal protection units within every police department, said Terestella Gonzalez Denton, executive director of the island's tourism department.

"We want to tell the world that Puerto Rico is a civilized society," she said.

Dozens of pets were seized in October from housing projects and hurled from a bridge to their deaths. An investigation by The Associated Press later showed that such inhumane methods of killing pets and stray animals were routine, with thousands of animals brutally slain.

Hundreds of angry tourists have sent letters to Puerto Rican authorities, Gonzalez said, and more than 50,000 people from around the world have signed an online petition calling for justice for those responsible.

Tourism officials estimate that Puerto Rico has lost more than $15 million as a result, an amount equivalent to about 5 percent of the island's average monthly tourism income. They worry more people will shun the island.

"We don't have exact figures of the current total loss, but we understand it could be even higher due to the widespread play of the news reports," Clarisa Jimenez, president of Puerto Rico's Association of Hotels and Tourism, said in a statement.

Last week, a judge charged the owner and two employees of the private company Animal Control Solutions with animal cruelty in the October pet massacre. Charges were also filed against the company. After the AP report was published, authorities said they would broaden their criminal investigation.

Wilma Rivera, the director of Puerto Rico's animal control agency, said Tuesday that she has at least $1.5 million available to help municipalities build shelters. More money is expected to come from grants and other sources, she said.

Puerto Rico's police chief has promised to train officers and establish animal protection units, Gonzalez said.

The only department currently offering such services is in Carolina, a suburb of San Juan. But Sgt. Carlos Davila said residents there are still surprised when officers investigate animal mistreatment.

"The hardest thing for them to understand is that (animals) have rights," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Picturesque Puerto Rico

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  1. Eye on the word

    The Castillo de San Felipe del Morro in San Juan is a 16th century citadel. It was designed to keep seaborne enemies of out San Juan (thus the gun turret pictured). In 1983, the United Nations declared "El Morro" a World Heritage site. Today, it is Puerto Rico's best known fortress, with more than two million visitors a year. (Francisco Turnes / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hidden beauty

    Isabela is a coastal city in Puerto Rico whose main industries include tourism due to it's classic and secluded surfing beaches, panoramic views, rainforest, rivers, caves archaeological sites and more. (ervphotos / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A beacon of the times

    The Punta Higuero Lighthouse in Ricon, situated on POint Juguero, was built in 1892 by the Spanish and rebuilt in 1922 by the U.S. Coast Guard after a 1918 tsunami hit the coast of Puerto Rico that also damaged the structure. The lighthouse still works and employs an unmanned 26,000-candlepower rotatintg beacon. The beaches around the Punta Higuero Lighthouse are also popular surfing destinations, and visitors converge in the area to see the annual migration of humpback whales. (fotoamateur / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Buried in history

    The Cementerio de San Juan (San Juan Cemetery), located between El Morro and the cliffs above the Atlantic of Old San Juan, is known for being one of the most picturesque burial grounds. The cemetery is also noted for its elaborate tombstones and the neoclassical chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene, which dates to the 19th century. Many of Puerto Rico's earliest colonists are buried here. (tank bmb / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Staying afloat

    Tourism is a big component of Puerto Rico's economy, and supplies about $1.8 billion annually, with millions of visitors visiting the island. It is estimated that about a third of the tourists come on cruise ships. (Ritu / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Traveling back in time

    A church stands on the grounds of La Fortaleza in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The old city is a historic district of seven square blocks made up of ancient buildings and colonial homes, massive stone walls and vast fortifications, sunny parks and cobblestoned streets. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Withstanding time

    Old San Juan in Puerto Rico is the oldest settlement within the territory of the U.S., and spans just seven square blocks. Here, the La Fortaleza (the governor's mansion), a part of the old city wall and a gate are pictured. (tank bmb / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historical colors

    Colorful homes line the cobblestoned streets in Old San Juan, the original capital city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Popular pastime

    Locals often gather at the many plazas of Old San Juan to chat and play dominoes. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Room with a view

    In Old San Juan, one of the oldest cities in the Americas, embellished balcony doors, such as the one pictured, are not unusual in the city that dates back to 1521. Most buildings are more than 150 years old and are evidence of the Spanish architectural heritage. (capricornis / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Natural beauty

    The El Yunque National Forest is the sole rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System, according to the park's Web site, and is relatively small at 28,000 acres. It features a year-round tropical climate and immense biodiversity. About 600,000 tourists each year enjoy all that the forest has to offer, including wildlife, waterfalls, hiking and camping opportunities, and more. (ervphotos / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Guiding light

    A 19th century lighthouse -- called the Los Morrillos -- sits atop a towering cliff that overlooks the waters of Cabo Rojo, located at the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico. The cliffs around the lighthouse drop more than 200 feet into the ocean. The lighthouse was originally built in 1882 to guide ships from the Caribbean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Today, the lighthouse is completely automated, and a renovation cleared the interior of everything of historical significance. (ervphotos / FeaturePics.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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