In November 2008, former Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Glynn Johnson publicly beat his neighbor’s six-month-old puppy Karley with a rock so viciously that she suffered skull fractures, a cracked jaw, collapsed nasal passages, a crushed ear canal, and broken-out teeth. After the young German shepherd mix was determined unsavable and subsequently euthanized, Johnson was convicted of felony animal cruelty, and currently awaits sentencing. But what’s to prevent this known animal abuser from taking his aggression out on another defenseless victim the next time he becomes uncontrollably enraged?
Though it’s of little consolation to Karley or her aggrieved guardian, at least this tragedy has inspired one lawmaker, California senate majority leader Dean Florez, to introduce a measure that would prevent other animals from suffering similar fates. If his proposed “Animal Abuse Registry” bill (SB1277) becomes law, it would institute a statewide database documenting cruelty cases that would enable law enforcement agencies, shelter staff and average citizens to track convicted felons and consequently keep them away from innocent animals. Florez modeled his legislation on the sex offenders’ database pioneered in California that puts criminals’ addresses, places of employment, and photographs online, and now operates in all 50 states, successfully reducing recidivism among these dangerous deviants.
No doubt, the bill’s passage would be a major advance in the fight against animal cruelty. For one, it would enable shelters and breeders to ensure that they don’t adopt or sell animals to known abusers, including those who’ve been convicted of hoarding animals, running illegal animal fighting rings, operating disgraced puppy mills, and otherwise torturing, mutilating or killing animals. And because animal cruelty has been conclusively linked with domestic violence, child abuse and even serial murders, it would also serve as an early warning system that would help police investigators to prevent other violent crimes.
However, while an animal abuse registry would certainly reduce cruelty cases by acting as both a deterrent and stopgap against violent behavior, some critics warn that it would violate offenders’ civil liberties by socially stigmatizing those who’ve already paid for their crimes with jail time. Opponents also worry that making abusers’ whereabouts and criminal records public might encourage those who feel the convicted haven’t been adequately punished to pursue vigilante justice. Others claim that it is unfair to require animal guardians to finance the database’s creation and upkeep with a two-to-three-cent-per-pound tax on pet food, and that alternate funding methods like having felons pay a $50 fine will not raise enough money for the program’s maintenance.
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Ultimately, however, what it boils down to is whether protecting the privacy of animal abusers is more important than saving animals’ lives. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, for one, hopes that California will become the first to publicly register animal abusers, and that other states will soon follow suit until a national database is firmly established. The group’s website, www.exposeanimalabusers.org, encourages visitors to sign a petition urging their state legislators to introduce their own bills, and features a video outlining the advantages of animal abuse registries.