NYS currently has a bill pending, A10387, that would create central and county registries for convicted animal abusers “guilty of violence, torture, mutilation, intentional killings, bestiality and animal fighting as well as neglect and hoarding.” Abusers would be photographed and fingerprinted, have relevant personal data entered, and would need to re-register annually for 15 years. The county sheriff’s office would “contact every residence, school, humane society, animal shelter and any other business within a half mile radius of the animal abuser’s residence or location” and provide the abuser’s information (excepting social security number), which “shall be made available to the public” for the 15-year period. “An animal abuser who intentionally or knowingly fails to comply…or provides false information…is guilty of a felony,” punishable by up to four years.
The arguments against a registry include:
Expense: In NY, the convicted would pay an initial fee of $20 that would be split between the State and various counties (address change would cost $10). In California (first to install a sex offender registry), the program would be funded by a pet food tax. Obviously, that industry objects, and it probably is not fair that responsible pet guardians should be further burdened by the odious acts of a few. California Senator Dean Florez estimates that their registry would cost under $400,000 annually, and Tennessee and Colorado issued reports citing expenses at less than $30,000/year (NY Times, 3/17/10); these figures represent a pittance of multibillion-dollar state budgets. In addition, Parade (5/16/10) notes that one dedicated individual, Alison Gianotto, created the privately-run Pet-Abuse.com in ’01 (tracking international cases of animal cruelty) with a $10,000 annual price tag. Money should not be a consideration.
Invasion of Privacy: It is often said that our justice system allows for second chances, and that once the crime is paid for, society should move forward. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, registry proponent, does not believe that the information should be available to the general public (WCBSTV, 7/7/10): “It’s not for everyone to look up and see oh, my neighbor did something, you know, bad to an animal.” But, animal hoarding, as an example, shows that the protection of possible future victims must take precedence over privacy concerns. Veterinarian Gary Patronek, perhaps the nation’s leading expert, says, “The drive to do this is so strong that recidivism is almost 100%.” 100%. There must be a system to alert communities (including neighbors) that a convicted hoarder is in their midst. A vigilant public becomes another crucial line of defense.
Misallocation of Resources: Some object to using law enforcement, already stretched thin, in this way. Harvard’s Jeffrey Miron says (WCBSTV, 7/7/10): “Making sure they’re in the registry, making sure they’re living where they say they’re living. In my judgment those resources could be better used pursuing more important types of crimes — homicides, rapes, assault.” Ignoring, for a moment, the clear link between animal cruelty and violence against other people (the FBI has been tracking animal abusers for decades), what is law enforcement’s charter if not to protect society’s most vulnerable? Pets, like children, are completely dependent on human adults. If we want them, we have a moral duty to create a safety net using all available resources. Besides, evil is evil is evil. Sharon Harmon of the Oregon Humane Society (KATU, 4/14/10): “It’s the same crime, just a different victim. The people who commit those crimes are the same people regardless of whether it is a child, a woman, or a dog.” In response to the privacy issue, she aptly says, “If you don’t want to be on the list, don’t abuse animals.”
While an animal hoarder probably does not have malignant intentions, a NYS dogfighter or custodial abuser/killer will, at most, serve two years (rare, at that) for his heinous crime. With a strong correlation between the shamefully low penalties and the unlikelihood of reform or deterrence, are we to allow these awful people to anonymously assimilate back into society and, thus, deprive shelters, adoption agencies, law enforcement, and the public of an incomparable tool? The registry is an idea whose time has arrived. It is long overdue, inherently right, and deserves our support.