By Seth Victor
On Long Island, New York last Tuesday, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a bill, sponsored by legislator Jon Cooper, creating
the nation’s first registry for people convicted of animal abuse. The online registry operates in a similar fashion to the online registration required for sex offenders under Megan’s Laws. Anyone convicted of animal cruelty will be required to submit and keep updated their name, address, and photograph to the publicly searchable database for five years following their conviction. Convicted abusers will have to pay $50 annually for the cost of the registry, and those who do not face a $1,000 fine and one year imprisonment.
Mr. Cooper is quoted stating, “We know the correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence…Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people.” In acknowledging the link between animal abuse and domestic violence, a relationship of which many people are not aware, Mr. Cooper illustrates how animal protection laws can serve both human and animal interests.
I’m very interested to see how this law is implemented. Obviously the first online registry for animal abusers is quite significant, and it will hopefully encourage similar pending bills across the country. Apparently all abusers will be listed, making this registry much broader than some Megan’s Laws. New Jersey’s system, for example, grades offenders via a series of criteria that assign points to a total score. Depending on the score, the offender will be graded as either a low, moderate, or high risk of re-offense, or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd tier. Only 3rd and certain 2nd tier offenders are included in the online registry, while the rest simply have to be registered with the local police. Will abusers who drown and strangle dogs (and get paid millions in return) find themselves on such a list while those who abuse through neglect do not? If the law is as broad as it appears to be, I would not be surprised to see some legal challenges, depending on the type of abuse.
Mr. Cooper has championed successful animal protection in the past. In 2000 the county legislature approved his “Pet Safe” bill, which allows victims of domestic abuse to give their animals to the county shelter for upwards of 90 days so they can escape abusive environments without sacrificing the well-being of their animals. In that same year he sponsored a relief plan for pets in disaster situations. Currently he is also sponsoring a bill that will make it mandatory for pet stores, breeders, and rescues to check prospective buyers/adopters against the registry, and to screening volunteers for rescues and animal-related businesses.
While a few states have introduced similar bills, and certain organizations maintain unofficial registries (e.g. http://www.inhumane.org), this is the first approved, government maintained registry. Statewide registries are being considered in both California and New York, and ALDF is currently campaigning for registries across the county.