NYC Creates City-Wide Animal Abuser Registry!Posted by Chris Green, ALDF Director of Legislative Affairs on February 5, 2014
UPDATE 2-5-14: The Michigan ICHAT Registry bills just passed out of the House Judiciary Committee without a single vote against them. They now go to the floors of both chambers for full up or down votes.
On February 4, 2014 the New York City Council voted unanimously to override former Mayor Bloomberg’s veto and create a city-wide animal abuser registry across the five boroughs. ALDF has been involved in this effort since 2012, providing advice, testimony and even offering a $10,000 grant to help defray start-up costs.
The NYC registry will compile the names of convicted animal abusers and prohibit them from having any contact with animals for a minimum of five years. Shelters, Pet Stores and other entities in NYC also will be required to consult the registry before adopting out or selling an animal to anyone, and forbidden from transferring an animal to anyone on the list.
Keeping defenseless animals out of the hands of convicted abusers is an important way to address animal cruelty at its source—and today’s vote is a powerful legacy for former Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. who championed the effort. Indeed, New York City will now become the largest jurisdiction ever to implement such a registry. This is a great first step by the incoming City Council and indicative of all the potential good things to come from the recently inaugurated Mayor Bill de Blasio and his “Vision for a More Humane City for New York’s Animals!”
That is not the only good legislative news on this front. Hot on NYC’s heels, the State of Michigan is rapidly moving forward with its own version of the animal abuser registry concept. Instead of creating a separate registry, MI legislators have introduced a group of bills that instead would require shelters and animal control agencies to consult MI’s existing ICHAT system to do a criminal background check on anyone seeking to adopt a companion animal. Known as both Logan’s Law and the Animal Adoption Protection Act, the proposed bills also would prohibit animal abusers from owning animals for 5 years. Keeping our animals safe is something that resonates with legislators and voters of all political persuasions as noted by one of the bi-partisan bill sponsors Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit):
“There are no Republican dogs or Democratic cats,” he said. “The issue of animal abuse reaches across party lines and concerns people on both sides. Having legislators from both parties and both chambers just makes sense. ”
After the MI ICHAT bills passed the MI Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously last October, last week I testified on behalf of the measure before the MI House Judiciary Committee—which is expected to vote favorably on the measures this Thursday. The bills then would move to the floors of both houses and could get an up or down vote by the end of the month. Michigan would be the first state to create this much-needed safeguard to keep animals out of abusers’ hands.
But Wait, There’s More!
At the Animal Law Conference held at Stanford last October, we announced ALDF’s plans to create a national Do Not Adopt Registry that will compile animal abuse conviction data into one, uniform database and make it accessible across state lines. Implementing a centralized, national registry will provide shelters, rescues, pet stores and individuals all over the country with one site to better screen potential adopters and customers to ensure they have not been convicted of animal abuse crimes, such as dog fighting or hoarding. Animal Control Officers similarly will gain an immediate, mobile means to identify abuser conviction histories during enforcement visits.
ALDF’s Do Not Adopt Registry will be open and accessible by anyone, but searchable only by name and date of birth (verifiable by a potential adopter’s driver’s license). If a name and birth date matches, then the database will provide the type/date/location of offense. This approach will keep shelters from having to negotiate a patchwork of independent, localized registries that are not linked to one another. It also will limit the manner and type of offender data available, so that only what is necessary for shelters and others to evaluate someone seeking to adopt or purchase an animal is made publicly accessible.
To that end, I’m happy to announce today that my home state of Illinois will be the first to introduce such legislation to opt-in to ALDF’s national Do Not Adopt Registry. We have been working closely with the office of Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) and she is expected to introduce the bill any day now.
“I am very excited for the potential of a national animal abuse registry administered by the Animal Legal Defense Fund,” Sen. Rezin said. “The registry will allow us to protect animals and make sure they are being placed in safe homes. This will be a service for the shelters and organizations that work hard to place animals in good homes, giving them peace of mind knowing that they have a database to rely on when screening potential animal owners. I look forward to passing it through the Illinois General Assembly.”
One obvious target of this identification system is dog-fighters looking for cheap victims to train or use as bait dogs. Another critical group are those convicted of animal hoarding. The issue of animal hoarding is of grave concern given that in just TWO hoarding cases in which ALDF intervened in North Carolina (the infamous Woodley and Conyers cases), a staggering 500 DOGS and CATS had to be rescued from deplorable conditions and provided care. And such care is not cheap—in just one Ohio hoarding case, the price tag to the local county for rescuing and treating the 170 animals removed from a single home was over $1.2 million! When one considers that 80% of animal hoarders are likely to repeat their behavior, anything a municipality can do to identify hoarders within their borders only makes sound fiscal sense and strong social policy.
While we all certainly understand that most animal hoarders are in desperate need of mental health treatment, in the meantime, because innocent animals remain defenseless and vulnerable to this type of abuse, as a society we need to provide every tool available to prevent hoarders from easily acquiring yet another animal to harm. Up until now there has been no official mechanism to prevent someone convicted of animal abuse from simply walking into a shelter or going on Craigslist and acquiring a new animal to abuse. Every shelter we have spoken to welcomes any means they can employ to identify another Jeffrey Nally and keep their precious animals out of such abusive hands.
So all in all it has been a positive week across the nation for legislative measures to ensure that animals are kept out of the clutches of convicted animal abusers. We here at ALDF will keep you posted as these efforts develop.