In Defense of Animal Abuser Registries

Posted by Lisa Franzetta, ALDF's Director of Communications on September 20, 2012

(Photo by Stefano Mortellaro)

With change comes, inevitably, the skeptics. With the announcement last week that New York City is now considering a mandatory registry for convicted abusers, some predictable concerns were raised once again–Will it drain scarce resources from enforcement of existing laws?; Shouldn’t abusers be given mental health counseling?; Who’s really going to look at it?; Won’t it cost too much?; What if a vengeful neighbor who doesn’t like my dogs reports me to the authorities and I somehow end up on this list (and I’m really a nice person, I swear)?

By and large there has been massive support for the concept of abuser registries from within the animal protection community and from law enforcement–the abuser registry law in New York’s Suffolk County, the first jurisdiction in the nation to enact such a law, was passed in 2010 and is being implemented with strong support and close oversight from the local police and SPCA. As seen in the long list of state-level abuser registry bills that have been proposed in just the past few years, it’s an issue that is seeing increasing and broad-ranging bipartisan support across the country.

At ALDF, we’d be the first to argue that there needs to be tougher enforcement and penalties associated with existing laws to protect animals. Sadly, of the many hundreds of cruelty cases that come across our desks every year, in far too many of them, charges are never brought, abusers cop a plea, or, even if convicted, get off with little more than a slap on the wrist. So the stated concern that everyone who ever looks sideways at a neighbor’s barking dog is going to end up listed on an abuser registry, is, frankly, unfounded. I’m deeply sorry to offer the reminder that, by and large, most animal abusers in this country have evaded true justice and are going about their business scot-free.

(Photo by Picture Zealot)

That said, concerns about the implementation of abuser registry laws don’t obviate the need for such laws. They are a way for us as a society to say what behavior is and is not acceptable, and what steps we deem worthy of taking to protect our animals and our communities. It is now common knowledge that convicted animal abusers have high levels of recidivism and often go on to repeat their crimes. In cases of the most violent offenders, they often commit violent crimes against humans as well. Do many have mental health issues, and would they benefit from counseling?–undoubtedly. ALDF advocates for laws allowing judges to require counseling for convicted offenders. However, that does not mean that we should not be taking simultaneous steps to protect more animals from becoming future victims. Should a long-time dogfighter be able to walk out of his sentencing and swing by the shelter to pick up a pit bull on the way home? We believe the answer is no, and most people agree with us on that point.

I have yet to hear from anyone who works tirelessly (and often, thanklessly) at an animal shelter who does not think such a tool would be valuable. While it’s true that, as with sex offender registries, the level of interest and vigilance of private citizens in referencing such a database might vary, our shelters are the organizations we charge with protecting the interests of homeless animals–truly among the most defenseless beings in our society. Shouldn’t they have a way to confirm that they are not sending an animal who has perhaps already experienced significant trauma–at the very least, the trauma of abandonment–home with a repeat-offender animal hoarder? A convicted dogfighter? A man convicted of torturing his girlfriend’s beloved pets?

There are widely varying cost estimates for registries, and many options for funding them–including fines levied on convicted abusers. And let us not forget the very high cost to communities for prosecuting animal abuse cases and caring for the animal victims left in their wake. A single large-scale hoarding case can bankrupt a municipal animal shelter. Any such crime that an abuser registry could prevent will be a cost savings to that jurisdiction. Also, sex offender registries already exist nationwide, so the infrastructure for such databases is there for the replication. Just as a concern that there is not perfect enforcement of laws targeting sex offenders does not mean we dismiss the relative value of sex offender registries, so too will the provisions of Council Member Peter Vallone Jr’s proposed New York City law and other animal abuser registry proposals reinforce the overall stance that crimes against animals must be taken seriously, and that our criminal justice system has a duty to protect potential victims–both animal and human–by taking reasonable steps to prevent likely future crimes against them.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Animal Abuser Registries

  1. P. Cole says:

    It will create some much needed jobs.

  2. GRACE NEFF says:

    I think this is an idea long overdue. So many animal abusers get away with a fine and, maybe, a short sentence, and can get another animal and start the abuse over again only this time where no one can see or respond.

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