I’ve recently received dozens of emails along the following lines:
Thank you for considering the implementation of an animal abuse registry. If put into action, this registry has tremendous potential to curb the problem of animal abuse.
Because pet shop owners and breeders would have access to the list, there would be substantially fewer animals sold to people with a history of neglecting or actively hurting their animals.
I believe that it is entirely appropriate to require that merchants who sell live animals check the registry before every sale, and to hold them accountable for selling to known animal abusers.
Please move H. 1385 into law as quickly as possible.
I passionately support the goals of House 1385: We do want to keep defenseless animals away from animal abusers. And, in a world, where strangers can meet for transactions over the internet, the risk of harm to animals (and children) is increased. I commend the advocates for this bill for bringing it forward.
But I’ve let advocates know that I personally think the concept needs more work before it should be considered by the legislature.
As a piece of legislation, it is incomplete in the sense that it does not really address many of the details that would need to be addressed in creation of an animal abuser registry. There would need to be some kind of differentiation between levels of abuse. In the same way that we differentiate among levels of sex offenders, we would need to recognize the difference for example, between a person who becomes mentally disabled and fails to care for his farm animals and a sociopath who cruelly tortures pets. In my experience, mental illness underlies many of the saddest cases of animal neglect. The legislation provides no conceptual framework for classifying abusers, no procedure for doing so and no avenue for litigating unfair classifications. Our Sex Offender Registry Board is a complex legal and conceptual edifice and the legislation does not lay the foundation for a similar agency or process.
Additionally, we lack the evidentiary base for assessing whether a registry would actually prevent abuse. We don’t have data about how many serial abusers of animals there are or how they acquire animals. We do have a few newspaper stories from other states about people acquiring animals for the purpose of abuse on Craig’s list, but it’s a long way from a couple of newspaper stories to the construction of an effective new bureaucratic protective mechanism. By contrast there is a deep literature about the recidivism of sex offenders. Before we create a new registry construct, we need to believe that it is reasonably calculated to accomplish its goal.
Finally, I think we need to ask carefully how this fits into the whole issue of making sure that people can get a second chance in life. There are powerful arguments for letting people put their past behind them. We don’t want people crippled by their mistakes. We want them to have a shot at becoming legitimate and productive members of society. That, in itself, is an important way to prevent abuse — to the extent we push people to the margins, we increase the chances that they will do more bad things in frustration. Some of the advocates have urged that anyone should be able to check the registry and that anyone who transfers an animal without checking the registry should be punished. I’m not sure it is realistic to expect that people would be informed enough to know of their obligation to check the registry and at the same time I fear that it could be harmful for access to the registry to be universal.
I look forward to working with advocates for this legislation to develop it and to further assess its potential to prevent abuse.
Responding to comments below:
I’ve read through the comments here and of course I am wounded by those that seem to suggest I don’t care enough about animals.
I stand by my views though. I don’t think this legislation is adequately developed. The advocates for this concept need to do more much work to bring forward a serious and workable legislative proposal.
One thing that people may not realize is that we do have a registry for all crimes already. It’s called the Criminal History Systems Board. We do not have special purpose registries for people who abuse women, the elderly, the mentally ill or children. We do have a sex offender registry, but that speaks to a special kind of abuse — all other kinds of abuse and neglect are disclosed through the CHSB. I really doubt that we should create special purpose registries for every class of victim. As many advocates below have emphasized, people who abuse animals abuse people and vice versa — cruel people are cruel in more than one way.
The right question is whether we should streamline access to the information in the Criminal History Systems Board in cases where we are rehoming animals. I think we need to think very carefully about whether that could work practically. It would mean that everyone who wants to bring home a pet would have to provide their full identity information to the person giving away the pet. In an era where identity theft is rampant, that does raise practical concerns that need to be carefully addressed.
One other question that needs to be addressed is whether it provides meaningful protection just to check the background of the person coming forward for the pet. One would really like to know who else is in the same home.