By Stephan Otto
A little over a year ago, the Animal Legal Defense Fund launched our national campaign – ExposeAnimalAbusers.org – to raise awareness and garner support for the adoption of animal abuser registry laws across the country.
However, the idea behind this type of law was born many years earlier. In 2001, I drafted our first model law on the subject entitled “Offender Registration and Community Notification.” Its genesis came on the heels of states adopting publicly-accessible registries for convicted sex offenders. The idea that there could be similar benefits derived from tracking animal abusers spurred this development.
I felt then, as I do now, that having the ability to track those convicted of serious crimes against animals could help to reduce the numbers of future victims at the hands of repeat offenders. In addition, owing to the strong correlation between those who abuse animals and those who are violent toward humans, animal abuser registries could help reduce the potential for human victims as well.
Registries could also provide a new method for humane societies, shelters and citizens to quickly screen potential adopters of animals, limiting convicted abusers’ access to new would-be victims.
Additionally, such registries could help save counties, cities and towns money by helping to reduce the number and severity of repeat offenses by animal abusers. It is unfortunately not uncommon for a single case involving the care and rehabilitation of abused animals to cost a municipality tens of thousands of dollars.
So where are we today? Well, since our campaign began, more than 36 bills have been introduced in 19 states. And Suffolk County, New York – home to more than 1.5 million people – became the first jurisdiction in the world to adopt a registry law, Justin’s Law. Crucial to this success was the strong support and leadership of Majority Leader Jon Cooper (Legislator Cooper was recently named one of America’s Top Ten Animal Defenders and co-sponsored our recent National Justice for Animals Week).
Currently, 16 states have pending animal abuser registry bills and there is an increasing call for additional legislation. But despite the overwhelming public support for registries, challenges to their wide-spread adoption remain. The key test facing the current crop of bills is their fiscal impact. Most states are grappling with huge budget deficits, so any legislation that has associated costs is subject to enormous scrutiny and faces long odds.
Given the political realities presented by our economic climate, the road to a national quilt of such registries will be a years-long process. Nonetheless, we remain undeterred and continue to work on new strategies and proposals aimed at mitigating the financial impact of abuser registries.
We at ALDF are committed to seeing this through and are extremely grateful for the tens of thousands of you who have taken the time to write to your legislators, asking for their support.
With your continued backing, we will add to the success we have already seen and continue working on ways to help make our communities safer for all residents, both those with two legs and those with four.