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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Registry of animal abusers proposed in several states

Violators subject to same public scorn as sex offenders

BLOOMBERG NEWS

LANSING -- Those who batter, abuse, or kill dogs and cats would get the same public scorn as sex offenders in bills introduced in legislatures throughout the United States.

Online registries for convicted animal abusers already have been approved in three New York counties, including Suffolk, where the nation's first takes effect May 7.

Twenty-five states have considered such laws since 2010, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is leading the campaign.

Backers say the bills recognize a growing awareness of animal rights -- and the public-safety benefits of stopping abusers, who, studies show, often go on to harm humans.

"There's a mountain of evidence that says we need something like this," said Michigan state Rep. Harvey Santana, a Detroit Democrat who's proposed a registry there. "There is a strong correlation between people who abuse animals and graduate to abusing people."

Other states where legislatures are considering similar bills include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland, according to the Legal Defense Fund, based in Cotati, Calif.

The case of National Football League quarterback Michael Vick shows why the drive has momentum, said Stephen Wells, executive director of the fund.

Vick was sent to prison in 2007 on charges of conspiracy to break dog-fighting laws, not animal cruelty, Mr. Wells said.

"It's frustrating to see repeat offenders commit these crimes and get away with it in people's eyes," said Mr. Wells, 47.

Public shame has a long history in the United States, dating to the Puritans' use of stocks to punish colonial criminals. Some cities have combated prostitution by publishing photos of their clients in newspapers and, in Minneapolis, on an electronic billboard.

The animal-abuse idea is an outgrowth of registries for sex offenders begun by states in 1996 under order of Congress.

The initiative isn't uniformly supported by animal-rights organizations.

Tracking abuse in FBI data would do more to prevent it, Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a 2010 blog post. Many people convicted of neglect are mentally ill, he said.

"Shaming them with a public Internet profile is unlikely to affect their future behavior," Mr. Pacelle wrote, "except perhaps to isolate them further from society and promote increased distrust of authority figures trying to help them."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals supports registries, said Stephanie Bell, associate director of cruelty investigations.

"Community members have a right to know when a convicted animal abuser is in their midst," Ms. Bell said. "People who abuse animals rarely do so only once."

Suffolk County's registry is administered by its Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Its leader, Roy Gross, said studies show those who abuse animals often hurt people.

"If you had a convicted animal abuser next to you, wouldn't you want to know?" he asked.

A person who abuses or kills animals is five times more likely to commit violence against people and four times more likely to commit property crimes, according to a 1997 study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA.

Serial killers who abused or killed animals include Boston strangler Albert Desalvo, "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz, and Carroll Edward Cole.

Mr. Gross said Suffolk County, with 1.5 million people, investigates about 3,000 animal-abuse cases a year. He estimated a dozen or so will be prosecuted.



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