It was a historical victory! On the 29th of September, Federal Legislator Fred Costa could closely see the triumph of his fight for animal protection when President Jair Bolsonaro sanctioned Lei Sansão in Brasília.
For almost 20 years in a political career – considering his terms as City Counselor, State and Federal Legislator – Fred Costa has had the animal protection as one of his main interests and has become an important political leader for the animal cause.
Last year he created the legislative bill 1095/19 that established detention from two to five years for people accused of mistreating domestic animals. The intention was to adapt the federal law 9605, from 1988, also known as the Law for Environmental Crimes that considered detention from 3 months to one year for animal abuse, mistreat or injury – including domestic and wild animals.
The bill was filed in February 2019 and approved by the House of Representatives last December. At a fast pace and in record time (one year and a half after presentation) it was approved by the Senate and sanctioned by President Jair Bolsonaro. The huge impact of the case Sansão – the dog who was victim of torture and had its hind legs severed by two men in Confins, Minas Gerais in early July – on social networks and some traditional media, contributed to speed up the whole process once it was drawing more attention from national authorities. The case of Sasão helped, but we need to recognize the work done by Fred Costa for the animal cause in recent years. It was decisive for the success of the law. And it surely deserves the spotlight.
The name Lei Sansão was given by businessman and philanthropist Alexandre Soares and accepted by Costa. Soares is the president of the animal protection association Patas Para Você (Paws For You) and was one of the main supporters on the approval of the bill 1095/19.
From a family with a lot of political tradition, Fred started his career at a very young age and since then he’s been successful in many of his projects. He started as the president of a local neighborhood association (Santa Lúcia in the city of Belo Horizonte). The same neighborhood where he was born and raised; and where he had important victories, especially the one about rampant verticalization.
At 26 years old, Fred was elected as a City Councilor in Belo Horizonte. He fought against the tax increase in the capital city of his state and drew some attention because of his work towards the elderly population. By that time, Costa started rising the flag of animal protection and became the author of bill 9830/10 that prohibited the use of animal in circus shows in Belo Horizonte.
In 2008 he was reelected as a city councilor and in 2010 he became State Representative for the state of Minas Gerais, being reelected in 2014. Since then, Costa has become one of the biggest representatives for the animal protection in Minas and the author of all related bills passed from 2015 – 2018 in the state.
In 2018, Fred Costa was elected as a Federal Representative and became the leader of his political party (Patriota) in the House of Representatives. According to a study by DIAP (Departamento Intersindical de Assessoria Parlamentar) he is one of the top 20 most influential congressmen from Brazil. The study considers elements such as the ability of leading and negotiation, quantity and quality of proposed bills, participation, attendance and institutional aspects of reputation and decision. Through his career, he has given up housing assistance and the entitled functional apartment. Besides that, Costa has given up the special retirement for representatives.
FRED COSTA FOR TALK
Now that his bill was approved and Lei Sansão is real, the federal legislator plans to work on 38 projects related to animal protection. We talked to Fred about Sansão, animal protection and the future.
How does it feel to achieve something like Lei Sansão (bill that considers detention from 2 to 5 years for domestic animal abuse)?
For us, animal lovers and protectors, the approval of this bill means a mark against the injustice and impunity of crimes against animals. I was very happy when I heard from experts – criminalists, prosecutors, lawyers and academics – that Lei Sansão is the biggest step in a decade for animal benefit.
When I presented the bill in 2019, in the beginning of my term, many people just laughed at our ambition and, back then, considered almost impossible for a freshman in Brasília to get a bill approved. And it’s important to highlight that its approval happened in record time – one year and a half since its presentation.
That means we are going through some changes in Brazil. People are more sensitive not only to notice and report cases of animal mistreats, but also to act in order to avoid them to happen again. This law has a very positive teaching effect because it acts directly on the prevention of mistreats and torture.
Why do you think the bill 9605 from 1988 – that provides detention from 3 moths to one year and a fine for crimes against animals – was kept unaltered for more than 20 years?
Unfortunately, because it was not a priority. For the lack of political articulation, of will. Nobody really embraced this cause and fought for the project to be approved and sanctioned.
How many deaths happened during these years and how many could have been avoided? How many animals were abused and could have been saved? The bills need to reflect our habits and today, a big part of society loathes the animal mistreats and abuse. So, it was about time to happen what we could make real through Lei Sansão.
Through our political representation, we acted as a sounding board for the feelings of millions of Brazilians who love and protect the animals and for those who recognize the importance of respecting them.
When did you realize your interest for animal protection, which is your main cause these days?
It’s something I have since in my first term: to represent those that don’t have a voice. I was a city councilor for two terms in Belo Horizonte; two terms as a state legislator and now I’m in first term as a federal legislator. When I mentioned (in my first term as a city councilor) the prohibition of animals in circus shows, I was mocked, vilified and today, after so many years, it’s proved that any circus company can survive without animal exploitation and abuse. So, it’s something that I carry in my heart for many years. But I have to say that when you decide to adopt an animal – especially if it has been through mistreats and abuse – you get even more conscious and angrier at animal abuse.
The representativity of the case involving the dog Sansão – victim of torture that had its two hind legs severed in Minas Gerais – was the main reason for giving its name to the new law?
Sansão is a symbol of the human cruelty, unfortunately. Two heartless cowards mutilated its hind legs. And, just like Sansão, how many other animals had suffered something as cruel as that? But Sansão became a symbol against animal abuse. And I need to recognize: if it’s alive and trying to have a life as normal as it can be, that’s because of his patron Alexandre Soares, who is taking care of the costs of treatment and adaptations needed. It’s been a long and expensive process including exams, surgeries, medicines, prosthesis, etc. in order to give the dog a better life.
So here we have a question. Alexandre is a gift from God to Sansão. But what about all the other animals that didn’t have the same opportunity?
What’s the importance of the NGOs that act on animal protection, such as Patas Para Você (that patronized Sansão), for the movement and campaigns for the approval of the law?
It’s paramount. I consider the independent protectors and NGOs are fundamental to guarantee some life quality for these animals and against the mistreats. Many times, they are the ones who act in the place of the State, due to the lack of public policies, and these heroes also give up some of their time and comfort, sometimes their money and even their social life to help the animals. These people and organizations deserve all our respect, admiration and love.
I would also highlight their importance in joining people online – and then showing the power of animal protection to represent those who don’t have a voice – besides the protests, marches and actions to save animals.
The latest action I’d like to mention is the one that happened during the pandemic, when we were going to the Senate to vote for our bill – the one that now is known as Lei Sansão – a group of animal protection organizations put around 500 stakes on the grass in front of the House of Representative and each one of those stakes had the photograph od a dog or a cat victim of animal abuse. Surely we would have many more cases to display in Brasília if we had more space. That only shows how the practice is appellant and how people felt the impunity in those cases, unfortunately.
Besides Lei Sansão, are there other laws, projects or actions about animal protection?
From my authorship we had the creation of the Police Station for Animal Protection in Minas Gerais, one of the first in the country.
For all my political career, from city councilor to federal legislator, I have presented several projects about animal protection. In Minas Gerais, I was the author of all the bills related to the issue, from 2015 to 2018, in the whole state. Among my bills that were sanctioned, there is one that prohibits the use of animals in circus shows in Belo Horizonte, one that represents animal abuse and establishes specific punishment and the increase of punishment for offenders in the state; one that prohibits the use of animals in tests and experiments from the cosmetic industry, among others.
On my first day at House of Representatives, I collected signatures to create the Frente Parlamentar Mista em Defesa dos Direitos dos Animais (Parliamentary Front for Animal Rights) that includes legislators and senators. In Brasília, I have already presented 39 bills regarding animal protection. We were also very active trying to stop some bills about hunting and “vaquejadas” that represented a step back in our progress.
I believe we need to go on consistently always based on three pillars: sterilization, adoption and education. That’s why we have developed, in partnership with the cities from Minas Gerais, the biggest program of sterilization in Brazil. We organized several actions to raise awareness for the animal cause.
For the first time in history, a dog entered the House of Representative; after our suggestion, the Central Bank created a tv commercial with a typical Brazilian dog (vira-latas) for the launching of the R$200 bill; also for the first time, Palácio do Planalto opened its doors for an event regarding animal protection and care. Besides that, our bill made the animal protection a very popular topic online, reaching more than 150 million people in two days and becoming more frequent in our agenda.
What are your plans for the future?
For the future we have several projects apart from the 38 that have been presented for the animal protection and we would like to increase the punishment for mistreats against all kinds of animal, not only domestic ones. Besides that, we are studying the best way to present and develop a bill that prohibits fireworks all over the country.
THE POWER OF SANSÃO
July 6th, 2020 was supposed to be another regular Monday. By the end of that day in the small city of Confins (in the State of Minas Gerais), the dog Sansão (Portuguese for Samson) would meet the worst and most violent side of a human being: the two-year-old pit bull was a victim of cruelty and torture and had its two hind legs mutilated by two men, who were neighbors to Sansão’s owner’s business.
When hearing a noise that sounded like a desperate and suffering bark, and the words “Grab the knife!”, businessman Joaquim Dias de Souza, 49 – Sansão’s owner – ran to the neighboring lot and what he saw seemed straight from a horror film: the two offenders were still holding the dog, who had been gagged with barbed wire and was almost dead. There was blood everywhere.
The reason? Nothing can explain such cruel attitude. One of the attackers, while seeing Sansão’s owner approaching said ironically “I warned you I would do that to the dog if you didn’t take any actions”. He referred to the fact, a few days before, when Sansão jumped the wall and went to the neighbor’s house. There he had a fight with one of his dogs, an ordinary ‘problem’ between two irrational animals.
Shocked by the words and images in front of him, Joaquim ran to help the dog. He made it very clear that Sansão, despite of the breed’s reputation, was a docile animal that had never attacked anybody.
THE CASE SENDS SHOCKWAVES AROUND THE COUNTRY
Outraged and disgusted, Nathan Braga, also responsible for Sansão, shared on social media a video about the cruel abuse his dog had suffered. Very quickly, the case was spread all over Brazil and joined thousands of people for the animal cause. A petition demanding justice and more severe penalties for criminals who promote animal abuse could reach more than 750 thousand signatures.
The media started covering the case and many celebrities showed their support on social media (@todospor.sansao): actors Rodrigo Lombardi and Thaila Ayala; soccer players Daniel Alves and Kaka; and top models Adriana Lima and Laís Ribeiro engaged in a campaign organized by businessman and philanthropist Alexandre Soares, president of animal care association Patas Para Você. The campaign promoted the creation of “Lei Sansão” based on the bill 1095/19 by Federal Legislator Fred Costa, which increases the sentence and the fine for animal offenders. Alexandre Soares became one of the biggest supporters of the law and dedicated all his efforts to promote the cause and warn people about the importance of the approval of proposed bill.
The movement was successful. The bill, that was approved by the House of Representatives in December 2019 caught some legislators’ attention, including the President of the Senate, David Alcolumbre and in the beginning of last September, the bill was approved by the Brazilian Senate. On September 29th, twenty days after being approved, the bill (named Lei Sansão, a suggestion made by Alexandre Soares and taken by Representative Fred Costa) was sanctioned by President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasília during a ceremony at Palácio do Planalto. Sansão was a guest of honor and was accompanied by his patron Alexandre Soares and tutor Nathan Braga. It was a historical moment for Costa, Soares and all animal lovers and protectors.
The law named after Sansão increases the punishments for mistreats against domestic animals – detention ranged from 3 months to one year and a fine; now it ranges from 2 to 5 years and a fine. The changes come in a very appropriate moment. During the pandemic, with the measures of social distancing, there was a significant increase in complaints of animal abuse, mainly against the domestic ones. According to some data from DEPA (Delegacia Eletrônica de Proteção Animal – Electronic Police Station for Animal Protection), only in the city of São Paulo there was an increase of 81.5% in complaints of violence against animal, from January to July 2020 – when compared to the last year. In Brazil more than 28.8 million houses have at least a dog and more than 11.5 million have a cat.
Julio Cesar Santos de Souza, one of Sansão’s offenders, will be tried in criminal court. The decision was announced in early October by the Public Prosecutor of Minas Gerais (MPMG – Ministério Público de Minas Gerais). Souza has also been accused of assaulting another dog, Zeus, in 2018, that couldn’t survive the cruelty and suffered euthanasia. The offender may have assaulted other 12 animals this year (3 dogs, 3 cats and 6 chickens), resulting in one death, at least.
According to judge Leonardo Guimarães Moreira, Santos might only get detention from three months to one year and a fine, once the bill does not retroact in Criminal Law.
Nathan Braga, Sansão’s tutor, closely monitors the outcomes of the lawsuit. “We have been fighting for justice since day one. We want a proper trial and conviction. What those men did has no turning back. Sansão will undergo treatment for the rest of his life. I want them to be held accountable for their actions and that this case may be used as an example. Nothing can explain what they did”, says Braga.