Recently, Suffolk County, N.Y. became the first local government in the nation to launch an animal abuse registry. To supplement this, the state of New York is considering a bill that would require sheriffs in every county to notify anyone living within a half mile of a convicted animal abuser.
To some, this seems like overkill; just because someone has mistreated their own pet doesn’t mean they’re going to seek yours out, right? In fact, there are more complex reasons this kind of registry has already been approved in three New York counties and has been proposed in 25 other states, including New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Maryland.
Why take animal abusers so seriously? According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article, a person who abuses or kills animals is five times more likely to commit violence against people and four times more likely to commit property crimes (this from a 1997 study by Northeastern University an Massachusetts SPCA). The article notes that serial killers who abused or killed animals include Boston strangler Albert Desalvo and “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz.
Suffolk County will be posting convicted animal abusers’ names, addresses and photographs online. Pet stores, breeders and animal shelters will have to check the registry and refuse to let anyone on it buy or adopt a pet. Here’s what constitutes an abuser: anyone who has been convicted of animal torture or aggravated cruelty to animals. This includes animal fighting, failing to feed a pet, abandoning animals and harming a service animal – and abusers’ names stay on the list for five years.
In fact, publicly shaming animal abusers is one reason states are considering the registry (which isn’t uniformly supported by animal rights organizations). According to Businessweek, the Animal Legal Defense Fund says nationwide registries would stop abusers from getting around court orders that prevent them from owning an animal by moving to another county or state. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports registries, but the idea has its critics both within and outside of the animal rights organization world.
Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the U.S., says that tracking abuse in FBI data would do more than registries to prevent it. In a blog post from December 2010, Businessweek noted, Pacelle wrote that shaming abusers with a public Internet post is unlikely to affect their future behavior, “except perhaps to isolate them further from society and promote increased distrust of authority figures trying to help them.”
Would you research animal abusers in your area if your county had a registry? And do you think the public shame would be a deterrent, or do little good? Sound off.