Suffolk County, NY, has voted unanimously to establish the nation’s first animal abuse registry. The new law is written along the same lines as federal legislation that requires convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement agencies, so people in the community know where these offenders are living.
The new measure will require county residents older than 18 to place themselves on an online registry for five years after their convictions on animal abuse charges.
New York state laws provide that any person who “tortures or cruelly beats or unjustifiably injures, maims, mutilates or kills any animal, whether wild or tame,” is guilty of animal abuse. It also classifies anyone who “instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal” as an animal abuser.
Of course, not all animals are covered by the law. Within the fine print of the cruelty laws are exemptions for animals who are used for commercial or sustenance purposes – which means, in fact, most animals. But it does cover companion animals and the treatment of wildlife.
County legislators noted that the new law will help protect humans – not just other animals.
“We know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence,” said Suffolk County legislator Jon Cooper, the bill’s sponsor. “Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people.”
Cooper is also pushing legislation that would bar anyone on the registry from buying or adopting a pet from a shelter, pet shop or breeder.
Other municipalities around the nation have been considering similar laws, but Suffolk County is the first to pass the measure. Once passed, the law will need to go through a six-month review by state officials before it goes on the books.
The Suffolk County SPCA will administer the registry, and the program will be funded by a $50 fee paid by convicted abusers. All abusers 18 or older must supply authorities with their address, a head-and-shoulders photograph and any aliases. Convicted abusers will remain on the registry for five years. Those failing to register face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
(Photo by Tina Pellicone)