A State Registry for Animal Abusers Like the One for Sex Offenders? It Might Happen
Every dog lover has, at one time or another come across someone who just seems so fundamentally clueless about animals that when you walk away, your brain is only capable of thinking, over and over and over again, "Why is someone like that even allowed to own a dog?!?"
Everyone has had that thought scream through their cerebellum, and it's a cinch to say that it will happen again. It's worse for me than for many people; my job here at Dogster pretty much ensures that I'll want to scream it out loud at least three or four times a day as I comb through online news.
On top of that, even if someone has multiple convictions for animal cruelty, and the cops came by the house and took even the cockroaches away for their own safety, all that person needs to do is hit Craigslist or (if they can fake their way through the process) the local animal shelter, and he or she has another dog. There's nothing that stops the cycle from starting up again. Even NFL star Michael Vick, convicted of running a dog-fighting ring, was eventually allowed to have another dog.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, based here in the Bay Area, thinks that it has a solution, and it has been pushing it for 10 years with no luck. The fund wants states to maintain registries of known animal abusers, just like they do with sex offenders. The databases would be accessible to pet stores, shelters, and rescue groups so that they could refuse sale or adoption to serial animal abusers.
There's only one problem: keeping all those ones and zeroes in their proper places can get very expensive very quickly, and state after state has told the ALDF that there's no way such a project would fit into their budget.
So after 10 years of rejection, the ALDF is taking things into its own hands. The group has started building a nationwide database of animal abuse convictions and wants states to opt in by sharing public data about convictions and abuse with them.
There's only one problem: Not everyone thinks that this database is such a good idea. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Civil Liberties Union have spoken up against using registries, on grounds that they pose a risk to privacy and stigmatize people who may have already paid their debts to society. Humane Society spokeswoman Jennifer Fearing says that focusing on educational efforts is more productive in the long run.
"We should be very careful to strike a balance between preventing future animal cruelty, protecting civil liberties and promoting redemption and rehabilitation," Fearing told the San Francisco Chronicle this week.
The ACLU has opposed several state efforts to establish registries, claiming that they're ineffective, costly, and create barriers to rehabilitation.
In building a case for a registry, it might be wise to avoid making parallels to sex offender registries, which have been subject to widespread problems and criticism, such as failing to discriminate between levels of offense. In some more extreme instances, there are several cases of teens who have faced being put into their state's registry alongside rapists and child molesters for life because they "sexted" nude pictures of themselves to their peers. Databases like this always require a high level of maintenance and oversight to ensure that they actually serve their purpose and serve justice instead of merely executing law.
What do you think about a registry for animal abusers? A step forward for humane treatment, or a Kafkaesque nightmare? Let us know in the comments below.