A few clicks of the mouse pull up a map with my house designated by a push pin icon surrounded by a red circle, sitting dead center like a bull’s-eye. The map tells me that there are no registered sex offenders living within a mile of me. A few more clicks expand the radius of the circle to five miles, and this time the map identifies 23 registered sex offenders living in the vicinity. The offenders are identified by name, address, often a photograph, and a link to a site where I can find out the nature of the offenders’ crimes.

Every state has a sex offender registry. A National Sex Offender Public Website is maintained by the Department of Justice and links information from all 50 states, several U.S. territories, and a large number of Indian tribes. Aside from the voyeuristic appeal of knowing your neighbors’ secrets, there are some legitimate reasons for public disclosure of sex offender information.

It’s not so easy to identify convicted animal abusers, but that may be changing.

The country’s first mandatory registration program for convicted animal abusers was established in Suffolk County, New York, in October 2010. The rationale behind the registry was to identify animal abusers to shelters and rescues, pet stores and dealers, and individuals so that abusers would not be able to buy or adopt animals.

The idea seems to be catching on around the country, with legislation establishing animal abuse registries under consideration in several states.

State Update

In Arizona, HB 2310 was introduced in January 2012 and referred to the Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee. If approved, HB 2310 would establish an online registry identifying convicted offenders with a photograph, address, and their offenses. Offenders would be kept on the registry for a year after the first conviction, for life after a second.

In Florida, SB 618 was introduced last month and sent to the Agriculture, Criminal Justice, and Budget Committees. The legislation would require registration when an individual is convicted of animal abuse and annual updating of information in the registry.

In New York, A 5373 was introduced last year to establish an online registry including extensive information about convicted animal abusers: name, address, description, workplace address, date and nature of the offense, and social security number.

In Tennessee, the Tennessee Animal Abuser Registration, Tracking, and Verification Act (HB 3483/SB 3149) would require convicted abusers to register every year with local law enforcement authorities.

In Maryland, SB 301 would require the Department of State Police to establish the Maryland Animal Abuse Registry. Convicted abusers would be required to register within 10 days following a conviction, and then update the registry information annually.

A Scarlet Letter

I have philosophical problems with offender registries. I think they are overly intrusive; I think they amount to punishment beyond what is allowed by law for the offenses; and I think there is the potential for stigmatizing a convicted offender in a way that doesn’t allow for rehabilitation. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state sex offender registries on two occasions, though, and there is no reason to think that animal abuser registries would fare any different.

My concerns aside, animal abuser registries probably are the wave of the future. Registries can serve a useful purpose, but only with proper design and with proper utilization. With that in mind, here are some suggestions:

Every state should have one;

All convictions—felony or misdemeanor—should be included in the registry requirements; 

All animals, however they are classified—pets, companion animals, horses, livestock, whatever—should be included;

All registries should be incorporated into a multi-state database, like the National Sex Offender Public Website;

There should be a uniform standard for having a name removed from the list;

A check of the database should be required before any animal is sold or leased, adopted out by a rescue or shelter, or given away, and failure to do so should be a criminal offense in its own right.

Is an abuser registry in the works in your state?