The Growing Trend of Animal-Abuser Registries.

Author:Fletcher, Chip
Position:Animal Law

Animal cruelty is a serious problem in the United States, resulting in the abuse of thousands of animals each year. (1) All 50 states now have felony provisions for the gravest crimes against animals, but many of these offenses are still considered misdemeanors. (2) Unlike violent crimes against people, cases of animal abuse have not always been compiled by state or federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate just how common they are. (3) Animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses, and livestock. (4) However, a more accurate account of animal abuse cases may be forthcoming. On January 1, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began tracking crimes against animals via the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). (5) Animal cruelty crimes are now listed in their database in the same grouping as arson, rape, and murder. (6)

Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. (7) As a result, intentional animal cruelty has become a great concern in recent years, as it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates an individual may be predisposed to committing acts of violence, even toward humans. (8) A strong correlation has been established linking individuals who abuse animals with incidents of domestic violence toward humans. (9) Data on domestic violence and child abuse cases reveal that a staggering number of animals are targeted by those who abuse their children or spouses. (10) People who have abused animals in the past are likely to do so in the future, and studies show there is a near 100 percent recidivism rate for certain types of animal abuse, such as animal hoarding. (11)

Since animal abuse is often an early sign of potential human abuse, a growing number of states and counties in the U.S. are giving serious consideration to increasing their monitoring of animal abusers. The idea of keeping track of them by way of registries is gaining popularity across the nation. (12) Prior to the animal abuser registry, there was no existing mechanism to prevent someone convicted of animal abuse from walking into a shelter or going on Craigslist and obtaining a new animal. (13) The registry is viewed by many as a way to help protect not only the animals in a community, but also the people; help police and the public identify potential criminal behavior and convicted animal abusers; assist shelters and animal organizations with screening out convicted abusers who may be trying to adopt again; and allow pet stores, other animal vendors, and employers an opportunity to check that prospective owners and employees are not on the registry. Generally modeled after registries kept for sexual offenders, animal abuser registries publicly reveal names, dates of birth, offenses, conviction dates, registration expiration dates of known animal abusers, and more. These registries are, essentially, a valuable asset. They have become quite a useful tool for keeping our beloved companion animals out of harm's way.

Suffolk County, New York, and Tennessee--The Trailblazers

Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, created what is believed to be the nation's first animal abuse registry in October 2010. (14) The registry requires people convicted of cruelty to animals to register or face jail time and fines. The publicly accessible online list was prompted by a rise in animal abuse cases in the area, including that of a woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying them in her back yard. (15) The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals administers the database. Convicted abusers are required to pay a $50 registration fee, and must remain on the registry for five years following their release from incarceration or the date judgment was rendered, whichever is later. Registered persons who are convicted of subsequent animal abuse crimes remain on the registry for 10 years following their most recent conviction. Those failing to register face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. (16) Within one year following the enactment of the Suffolk County animal-abuser registry, more than a dozen regions in the state of New York, including Albany, Rockland, and Westchester counties and New York City, began enacting animal abuser registries. (17) New York City's City Council enacted an animal-abuser registry law in February 2014, making New York City the first city in New York to join in on the effort. The law took effect on October 2, 2014. (18)

In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to adopt an animal-abuser registry and remains the only state to have a statewide database. The registry took effect in January 2016. (19) State Representative Darren Jernigan introduced legislation for the registry in 2013, at the suggestion of his neighbor, after a Tennessee resident was convicted of beating a puppy to death with a tire iron. (20) The registry is being monitored by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI), is located on the TBI website, and is accessible to anyone. Tennessee's registry includes the names, photos, birth dates, and home addresses of people who have been convicted of animal abuse. According to the state's registry law, "animal" is defined as a companion animal, like a cat or dog, but does not apply to livestock or wildlife. First-time offenders spend two years on the registry, and an additional five years will be added to their expiration date for every subsequent offense. Convicted abusers are required to pay a $50 registration fine and all who are 18 or older must supply a recent photo and any aliases they go by for the registry. Should an abuser decide not to register themselves as required, they could face up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. (21) The registry has become a voice for dogs like Smokey, an eight-year-old German shepherd who escaped from his home during a storm and ended up in the hands of three men who stabbed and tortured him. (22) All three men are on the registry until December 16, 2018. (23) Currently, there are eight men and one woman on the statewide list. (24)

Jurisdictions That Followed Suit

A Cook County, Illinois, animal-abuser registry ordinance was approved by the Cook...

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