Legislators in Suffolk County are adding teeth to the country’s first animal abuse registry and state lawmakers are trying to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in the city of New York.
Suffolk County, located on the eastern end of Long Island, last year became the first municipality in the country to require individuals convicted of animal abuse to add their names to a government database. There are legal consequences if an offender fails to register—a jail sentence or a fine—but it’s not at all clear how, or even whether, a registration requirement actually will curb animal abuse.
County legislators may have a partial answer to that question, thanks to a new ordinance that makes it illegal to sell or give an animal to anyone listed on the abuser registry. The requirement places some of the responsibility for preventing animal abuse on suppliers such as pet store owners, breeders, and shelter or rescue operators, requiring them to review the abuser registry before handing over an animal. The goal is to make it more difficult for someone with a history of animal abuse to obtain animals following a conviction. The law apparently supplements non-possession court orders that might accompany a conviction.
Failure to comply with the new law can result in fines for the supplier ranging from $500 for the first violation, to $1,000 for a second offense, to $1,500 for subsequent offenses.
Some enforcement questions come to mind. How does a rescue operator document that a check of the abuser registry actually was performed before adopting out a horse, for example, and is there a violation if a registered abuser does not later harm the newly acquired animal? Still, if you’re in favor of registering animal abusers, it’s a step in the right direction.
Upstate in Albany, companion bills have been introduced in the Senate (S 5013) and Assembly (A 7748) that would ban the operation of horse drawn carriages in New York City. Carriage rides are popular tourist attractions in many cities, but the activities have drawn strong criticism from animal welfare advocates who argue that regulations designed to protect the horses are either ineffective, or not enforced by authorities, or both.
What’s most interesting about the proposed New York bills is legislative recognition that a ban on carriage rides might create a new problem—what to do with the carriage horses that suddenly are unemployed—while trying to solve an old one. In an effort to protect the animals, the law would prohibit the sale, gift, or donation of a carriage horse unless the transfer of ownership takes place in a "humane manner."
The law is very specific about what "humane manner" means, and the options are limited: The owner of a carriage horse can sell or donate the animal to an individual who agrees to sign a guarantee that the horse will not be sold, will not be used in another carriage horse business or as a work horse, shall be kept solely as a companion animal, and shall be "cared for humanely for the remainder of the horse’s natural life." Or, the owner can sell or donate the horse to a rescue or animal protection organization, provided that the president or executive director signs the same guarantee. If an individual or organization willing to take a retired carriage horse cannot be located, the owner presumably must keep and care for the animal. Whether a horse’s "natural life" can be ended by euthanasia is not addressed.
Should horse drawn carriage rides be banned? What should happen to the horses?