Monday, March 22, 2010

Should There Be an Animal-Abuser Registry?

"Cruelty to animals, it is said, is often a precursor to graver crimes. So would there not be some usefulness to a registry of individuals convicted of felony animal abuse? Legislators in California want the Golden State to be the first to establish such a record — just as California was the first in the nation to create a registry of sex offenders.

“The goal of the registry, which would list crimes against both pets and farm animals, is to make it easier for shelters and animal-adoption groups to identify people who shouldn't be allowed access to animals. It would also be a boon to law enforcement because animal abuse, the bill's authors' say, often escalates to violence against people. Abuses covered in the bill would include the malicious and intentional maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding or killing of a living animal. It would also target pet hoarders and operators of animal-fighting rings (such as dog-baiting and cockfighting) who have felony convictions,” wrote Alison Stateman for Time Magazine.

As an animal lover, I agree with the idea of an animal abuser registry. I do think animal hoarding, in a lot of cases, is abuse, albeit unintentional, but that stems from a different kind of mental “place” than abuse caused by someone who dogfights. The crazy cat lady down the street is not Michael Vick. Pet hoarders need to be treated differently with this proposed registry. They may need psychological help and should be referred to an outpatient treatment program. I don’t know that a registry would do anything for hoarders, except make it harder for them to possibly find a place to live.

Also, as someone who is active in two dog rescue groups and maintains relationships with people in other various groups, I have to say this: don’t think for a second we don’t know who shouldn’t adopt from us. We do home visits, landlord/lady checks and vet and personal references. We talk. We know who the assholes are, and believe me, I’ve shared some names with other groups in the past, to make sure certain people I’ve personally encountered cannot easily adopt from us. Even those who adopt and rehome on sites such as Craigslist have rescue groups watching. Rescue groups do try to make it easy to adopt and rehome when necessary. It’s as much about the pet as it is the owner/family.

But like with anything new, there are going to be those that complain. (Oh my God, another new law? It’s Big Brother Government at work, people!) Right now, I would think the biggest complaint would be the cost. Where will the money come from and how would it be funded?

“The bill's biggest stumbling block may be the funding it would require. Created with the assistance of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the bill would raise the approximately $500,000 to $1 million necessary for its launch through a 2- or 3-cent tax per pound of pet food, says Florez, a Democrat who is chairman of the Food and Agriculture Committee. He estimated that after its launch, the project could cost between $300,000 to $400,000 a year to maintain.”

That’s not chump change, but this might be the best way to fund it, by an extra tax on pet food. That way, you don’t have the average, non-pet owner paying for this registry. Hopefully, it will be on ALL pet food, as opposed to pet food bought in specialty store or a grocery store. But I also believe there will be pet owners that complain about that 3-4percent tax. How dare the state tax me additionally because I have pets! Tough noogies, suck it up, people. I would imagine that for most people in the United States with a pet, we have them because we choose to, not because we have a physical or psychological need for a pet (that would potentially make it a service animal, and the owners of service animals should be exempt from the additional tax. I’d think it’s a sure bet those people treat their service animals very well.).

Of course, this registry should also be considered a non-profit, so that it could receive donations as well to help fund it.

“There may be other ways to fund the registry. Fearing says the Humane Society supported a similar law in Tennessee that called for those convicted of animal abuse to pay $50 toward the cost of an animal-abusers registry.”

But the real question lies in how will the registry be monitored? Will it be a case of too busy animal control officers and local police being called on with every complaint? Will they be turned into probation-type officers who are expected to check in on their registrants? If so, that’s going to be where the expenses lie: administration costs.

What kind of reasonable “expectations” can be written into the registry? Registrants can’t live within 100 yards of a pet store, animal shelter or veterinary clinic? That might be a bit extreme. Can they go to the zoo, pet store or circus (never mind the idea of the circus being ripe for animal abuse)? Can they be forced to attend counseling sessions? Can’t own a pet while they are on the registry? Does that include all animals? What if someone is a known cat abuser but they have fish in a tank? And what about the asshole who has to register his felony animal abuse charge, but has a roommate or an underage child in the home with a pet? Does that mean the roommate or child will be forced to give up their pet because they live with someone who should have known better? The writing/creation of the registry itself could take the longest. I would recommend some extreme brainstorming sessions with animal abuse and psychological experts. Hell, put them all on a Board of Directors for the registry. Make their knowledge work for the registry.

However, I do think a program like this would still work, although it might take 3-5 years, reasonably speaking, to see any kind of a trend or change that explicitly shows a downward trend in animal abuses. California, because of its known financial problems right now, may not be the best state to start such a program. I can’t imagine the California law-makers that are involved in this quest would be too interested in sharing their knowledge with those in another state that’s more economically viable right now, if there is such one.

Perhaps a better way to start something like the animal abuse registry would be better off starting in a few cities of various sizes, but within the same state. I would suggest cities with differences in geographic location population: Sacramento or Los Angeles, and a more rural city, perhaps. Give them the 3-5 years to try this program out, evaluate it and see if it’s viable on a state-wide level. Who knows…maybe in five years, the recession will have done a complete turnaround and many of us will have more disposable income again.

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