Sex offender registration is a system designed to allow authorities to track the residence and activities of sex offenders. Information in the registry is made available to the public via a website or other means. In many jurisdictions registered sex offenders are subject to restrictions including housing, being in the presence of minors, and living in proximity to a school or day care center.
Efforts are now underway to expand this concept to include animal abusers. Initiatives are gaining support and legislation has been introduced in at least five states, including Arizona.
The Arizona Animal Cruelty Registry Law (HB 2310) would require people convicted of animal torture, mutilation, intentional killings and animal fighting to register with the police and provide an array of personal information along with a current photograph, much like sexual predators. The information, along with the registrants' specific offense, would be posted on the Internet.
Animal welfare activists hope laws like this will inspire governments nationwide in the same way Megan's Law registries for child molesters have proliferated in the past decade.
In Florida, State Senator Mike Fasano proposed Dexter's law, named after a kitten beaten to death in his state. His proposal would require convicted animal abusers to register with authorities. Their names, home addresses and photographs would be posted online, and they would pay $50 a year to maintain the registry.
Registries have also been proposed in Colorado, Maryland and New York and similar proposals are expected in other states.
Suffolk County on Long Island moved to create a registry in 2010, and has since been followed by two other New York counties. No names appear on the Suffolk County registry yet, because it was only recently set up. Convicted abusers will appear on the registry for five years. Those failing to register are subject to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
The New York counties require pet stores and animal shelters to check the names of anyone seeking to adopt or buy an animal against the registry.
Maryland State Senator Ronald Young said he plans to introduce legislation in the wake of two incidents in his state. In one, a Yorkshire terrier was thrown off a 23-foot-high balcony; the dog, Louie, survived. In the other, a golden retriever puppy named Heidi was shot to death.
A bill to create a registry in California, introduced in 2010, didn't make it through the Legislature, partly because of concerns about its cost.
Liberty Watch Colorado, an advocacy organization committed to holding elected officials accountable, says such legislation is "an unnecessary expansion of government."
However, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal rights law organization based in California, outlines some taxpayer benefits. For instance, well-managed registries can reduce the number of abused animals and the animal control costs associated with caring for and treating abused animals. They also serve as an early warning system for potentially violent criminals like Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer all of whom tortured and killed animals during their childhoods.
"Researchers as well as FBI and other law enforcement agencies nationwide have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings and the recent rash of killings by school age children," says Dr. Randall Lockwood, vice president of training for the Humane Society of the United States.
Albert Schweitzer said it best when he warned that "Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives." Registering felony animal abusers not only helps protect innocent animals, it helps protect our families, friends and neighborhoods.
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 445-2666 ext. 21.