Jon Cooper, a legislator from Suffolk County, New York, introduced ground-breaking legislation establishing the country’s first public Animal Abuser Registry. Just last week, the Suffolk County Legislature passed the law unanimously. The law goes to the County Executive for a thumbs up or down within thirty days.
The law requires anyone convicted of animal abuse crimes to register for a mandatory five-year period following incarceration or judgment. Those convicted of such crimes must provide their names, aliases, current addresses, and photographs. Failure to register carries a penalty of a fine of $1000 and/or up to one year in jail.
The plan is to set up and maintain the registry without cost to taxpayers. The Suffolk County SPCA has agreed to maintain the registry, and those who must register will pay a $50 annual fee.
In order to pass this legislation, Jon Cooper and Suffolk County worked hand in hand with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. ALDF has been diligently fighting for a decade to create animal abuser registries. This idea is sure to spread quickly now that Suffolk County and the ALDF has had success. It should spread even quicker if Suffolk County can actually maintain the registry without cost to taxpayers.
Not satisfied with just a registry, Jon Cooper has introduced a follow-up bill that will require pet store owners, breeders and shelters to check the registry before allowing someone to adopt a pet, and will prohibit selling or adopting out a pet to someone on the registry.
For more information about the Suffolk County law, take a look at NPR’s story, N.Y. County Law Creates Animal Abuser Database and this post on USA Today’s Paw Print Post, Pet Lovers Hail Idea for Animal Abuse Registry.
So will Virginia follow suit? I can certainly see benefits to registries like Suffolk County. As one example, Virginia just toughened its penalties for failure to provide adequate care to a companion animal. [For more on what Virginia requires for care of a companion animal, see my earlier post, So What Are My Responsibilities As A Pet Owner?] The recent version of Virginia Code Section 3.2-6503 ups the fines for second or subsequent convictions of failing to provide a companion animal with its basic needs, and even creates a jailable misdemeanor for a second or subsequent conviction of failing to provide adequate food, water, shelter or veterinary care. Background checks don’t always have accurate information regarding charges and convictions, particularly for misdemeanors. A registry like Suffolk County’s would give animal control officers an added tool to check the backgrounds of suspects charged with not providing adequate care to companion animals.
Here’s a second example. Virginia Code Section 3.2-6549 lays out reporting requirements for “releasing agencies” other than pounds and shelters (which includes humane societies, animal welfare organizations, SPCAs and rescues). One of the requirements involves certifying that directors, operators, staff and animal caregivers have not been convicted of animal cruelty, neglect or abandonment. Foster care providers have the same requirement. Releasing agencies must update this information if a change occurs. A registry would go a long way to help Virginia releasing agencies and authorities to check the accuracy of these certifications.
Stay posted for Part 2 of this series, which will take a look at the status of The People v. Chung, a California case that held that officers can enter a house without a warrant if they suspect an animal is in danger.