Monday, March 01, 2010

UPDATE: Animal Legal Defense Fund: Exposes Animal Abusers

As mentioned in a recent blog, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to pass legislation that would require animal abusers to register in their neighborhood (much like sex offenders are required to do). On Friday, a bill that would require such action was introduced by the State Senate’s majority leader, Dean Florez. This bill will be the first of its kind in the country.

According to The New York Times, “Under Mr. Florez’s bill, any person convicted of a felony involving animal cruelty would have to register with the police and provide a range of personal information and a current photograph. That information would be posted online, along with information on the person’s offense.”

The bill was drafted with help from the Animal Legal Defense Fund based in Cotati, CA. The group has promoted the registry not only as a way to notify the public but also as a possible early warning system for other crimes.

“We know there’s a link between those who abuse animals and those who perform other forms of violence,” said Stephan Otto, the group’s director of legislative affairs. “Presumably if we’re able to track animal abusers and be able to know where they live, there will be less opportunity where those vulnerable to them would be near them.”

Joshua Marquis, a member of the defense fund’s board and the district attorney in Clatsop County, OR added: “I do not think for animal abusers it’s unreasonable [to have them register] considering the risk they pose, much like the risk that people who abuse children do.”

The article goes on to say that “One supporter of the proposed law, Gillian Deegan, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Botetourt County, VA, says such a registry could also be valuable in tracking people who run puppy mills and animal-fighting rings, as well as hoarders, who sometimes collect hundreds of animals, often resulting in neglect. ‘A lot of times these people will just pick up and move to another jurisdiction or another state if they get caught,’ said Ms. Deegan, who has written on animal welfare laws. ‘It would definitely help on those types of cases where people jump around.’ One Web site — Petabuse.com — already offers a type of online registry, with listings of animal offenders and their crimes."

Similar bills have been introduced in other states but have never passed. In 2008, a similar bill in Tennessee stalled after passing the State Senate. That legislation was endorsed by the HSUS. Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the society, said that the proposed financing mechanism for the California bill, a small tax on pet food, was “an extremely controversial idea” and unpopular with the pet food industry. Taxes are usually opposed by Republicans in California, and that gives Mr. Pacelle doubts about the bill’s prospects. “The idea of that succeeding in this climate in California is not high,” he said.

But the bill’s sponsor, Mr. Florez, who recently helped establish an Animal Protection Caucus, which includes Republican members of the State Senate and Assembly, says he is confident that he has the votes to move the measure forward and estimates that the registry would cost less than $1 million to establish. He also said his background — he hails from the farming-friendly Central Valley — will help the cause.

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