We have all heard all about Sex Offender Registries. People who commit certain types of crimes considered to be sexual offenses, have to register their address and often other information with local law enforcement. Every State has a Sex Offender Registry as do the territories and the Indian Reservations. Tennessee has gone a step further with a different kind of Registry.
Tennessee is the first state to have a state-wide Animal Abuser Registry. In 2016, a law in Tennessee went into effect creating the first state-wide Animal Abuse Registry in the country. The Tennessee State Bureau of Investigation website has the Registry open and available to everyone. The Registry was created at the urging of rescue organizations and shelters in order to enable them to refuse adopting animals out to known abusers. The first three people to land on the list were convicted of felony animal abuse for having severely beaten and stabbed a neighbor’s 8-year old German Shepard. Not every animal abuse crime requires registration; only specific felonies, and only felony convictions. If someone enters a plea for a lesser crime or is convicted of an animal abuse misdemeanor, they do not have to register. The Tennessee law only applies to dogs and cats. Dogs and cats account for 91% of the victims of animal abuse. But this statistic may not be accurate since livestock are not afforded the same protection under animal cruelty laws as companion animals. After a year, the Tennessee Registry only has 7 names on it.
Tennessee is the first State to create a registry, but the movement started with cities and counties. The first Animal Cruelty Registry began in Suffolk County, New York (Long Island) in 2010. New York State maintains a list of all county and city Registries within the State, but there is no Registry for the State itself. The legislature in Suffolk County determined that thousands of animals are abused every year in this country and that there is a strong correlation between individuals who have used animals and incidents of domestic violence and that individuals who abuse animals are more likely to commit other violent acts against humans. One national survey found that 71% of domestic violence victims reported of their abuser targeted pets and another study of families suspected of child abuse found pet abuse 88% of the families being investigated for abusing their children. Despite the long history, the Suffolk County list currently has only four names. One reason is that the requirement to register only lasts for three or five years.
Not everyone supports a Registry for pet abusers. According to the President of the Humane Society of the U.S., and a Registry, would do no more than publicly shame a handful of people convicted of those severe crimes and, it is his position that shunning and shaming reduces the likelihood that they will become better stewards of animals. Of course, the point of the Tennessee law is that they never become stewards of animals at all again.
So far, in Florida, registries only exist in Hillsborough County, Marion County, and Tallahassee. This year House Bill 871 to create a state-wide abuse registry for Florida died in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. But the movement is still growing at the local level, and more cities and counties have been adding registries across the country.
Would a Registry in Flagler and Volusia Counties be a benefit? Just last month a resident of Palm Coast was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals following the death of a dog she had been caring for. She has been charged with felony animal abuse. Even under a registration law like that in Tennessee, if she were to be convicted of that felony, regardless of where she went within the State, she would have to register and she would then not be allowed to adopt or purchase any more pets. Would a registry be effective? The statistics just are not in. Even on Megan’s Law and the Sex Offender Registry there is a great deal of debate as to whether they make anyone any safer, but animal abusers are not sexual predators, their psychology is different and, one cannot say the effect would be the same. I only know that a sensibly managed registry would give our local adoption agencies a reliable source for easily checking the background of anyone coming to adopt a pet.