A convicted animal abuser can’t just go out and get a new animal to abuse, right?
Wrong. Even someone who has had his day in court and been found guilty of animal abuse is often still free to buy or adopt a new animal. Only three counties, all in New York state, require the convict to make his conviction and identity known to animal shelters or pet stores: Suffolk, Rockland and Albany.
New York City is on its way to becoming the fourth locality nationally that would protect animals from known abusers. If a proposal introduced to the City Council on September 12 is adopted, NYC would become the largest political entity to implement an animal abuser registry in the U.S.
The bill was born when a Queens resident “threw a little dog out the window to its death,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who introduced the measure. According to The New York Daily News, the councilman noted that “There is nothing preventing [that resident] from going out tomorrow and getting a free animal out of a shelter.” If Vallone’s proposed registry passes, owning an animal “would be prohibited for any individual on the list.”
“Crimes that would result in inclusion in the registry are animal fighting, abandonment, aggravated cruelty and failure to provide proper sustenance, among others,” Gothamist reports. The online registry would include names, photographs, and home addresses, according to Dogtime.com.
The registry would be available to law enforcement, pet store owners, and animal shelters, but according to The New York Observer, only animal shelters would be required to consult the registry before adopting out an animal. Using the registry would be voluntary for pet stores. If the proposal is passed in this form, a convicted animal abuser would still be able to get himself a brand new puppy to torture just by finding a store that didn’t use the registry.
Another weakness of the proposal is that for many offenders, signing up with the registry would be the individual’s responsibility. According to The New York Observer, “the animal abuse registry would rely on self-reporting by individuals who move to New York City.” People convicted in New York City, however, would have no choice but to register. And new arrivals with animal abuse convictions who didn’t register would face ”up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.”
The same penalty would apply to animal abuse convicts found to own an animal even though they were on or should have been on the registry and therefore banned from having a pet.
According to CBS2 in New York, experts believe “that registries go a long way towards ensuring that animals are placed in safe, loving homes.” CBS2 reported that Tiffany Lacey, executive director of Animal Haven Animal Shelter in SoHo, said, “We’ve seen it too many times. It slipped through the cracks and someone that may have treated an animal poorly can again get another one? They’re gonna do it all over again.”
It is not clear whether the registry would be available to the public, The New York Observer reports. If it were, it could save some human lives too: Jon Cooper, the legislator who sponsored the registry in Suffolk County, has explained that “we know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals,” the Huffington Post reported. Lisa Franzetta of the Animal Legal Defense Fund agrees. “In story after heartbreaking story, abusers repeat their violent crimes against helpless animals — and often go on to victimize people as well,” she said.
After that, they would be allowed to own animals again. Public ambivalence about that idea is clear from the storm surrounding Michael Vick’s July announcement that he wants a new dog.
Vick, the notorious professional football player and dogfighting ring leader, was convicted of horrific abuse of the pitbulls he forced to fight each other, according to Petside.com. He served 19 months of a 23 month prison sentence and a three-year probation, according to ESPN, and now is back in the NFL playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. There is no legal obstacle stopping Vick from getting a new dog, just as there would be no obstacle for New Yorkers coming off of the proposed abuser registry.
Though it would be legal for Vick to get a dog, not everyone feels that his legal punishment was enough to rehabilitate him or earn him the privilege of having a companion animal. The ASPCA opined that he “hasn’t expressed a shred of empathy toward the dogs he brutalized and killed. And rather than talk about the horrors of dog fighting, he has consistently chosen to focus on the consequences of getting caught. In a nutshell, his actions are self-serving. We’ve seen little remorse and even less compassion. And let’s not forget, he caused unspeakable suffering to hundreds of innocent dogs.”
Petside.com took a similar stance, with Assistant Editor Ryan Karpusiewicz writing, “I understand and respect the legal system and the way that it is supposed to work. And yes, I understand that once Mike Vick is finished with his probation that he is technically allowed to own a dog again. But there’s something that just doesn’t sit right with me when I think about it. This man killed dogs in a brutal fashion, in the name of sport, human pleasure and financial gain.”
So the animal abuse registry proposed in New York City would not bar convicts from ever having pets again, and there is vigorous debate over whether it would be constitutional to have a lifelong ban. But for the time being, the big question is whether the proposal will become law at all.
The bill is co-sponsored by council members Vincent Gentile and Elizabeth Crowley. The New York state legislature is considering bills S. 3804 and A. 1506, which would create a state-wide animal abuser registry.
Though it isn’t foolproof, the proposed registry would be a big step towards keeping animals safe from known abusers.
Photo credit: Hemera