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Should State Publicize List of Animal Abusers?

May 14, 2013

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Samantha Morgan and Amber Galaviz
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia already has a registry for “dangerous dogs” – animals that have attacked other pets or people. So how about having a registry for people who abuse animals?

That’s what some animal welfare advocates would like. During this year’s legislative session, they supported a bill to create a public registry of people convicted of felony animal abuse in Virginia.

Under House Bill 2242, anyone 18 or older who has been convicted of a felony violation of an animal cruelty law would have to register with their local police department or sheriff’s office annually for 15 years. The authorities then would notify all homes, schools, animal shelters and businesses within a half-mile of the abuser’s location. Moreover, the state attorney general would keep a publicly accessible registry of all registered abusers.

However, the bill, sponsored by Delegate Lacey Putney of Bedford, was killed early in the session by a subcommittee of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.

The proposal’s defeat disappointed groups like the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Many experts believe that animal abusers are a threat not only to animals but also to people.

“While there is a registry for animals, it seems odd that there is not a registry for humans. In many cases, an animal acting in a violent or aggressive manner is a result of the way it is treated by its owner or other human companions,” said Patrick Cole, the league’s director of communications and outreach.

“More often than not, animal abuse is the first indicator of future violent actions. We need animal abuse to be taken seriously, and a registry would help accomplish that.”

A research group called the National Link Coalition also has found a significant correlation among animal abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse and other forms of violence.

“We believe that human and animal well-being are inextricably intertwined and that the prevention of family and community violence can best be achieved through partnerships representing multi-species perspectives,” said Randall Lockward, a leader in the coalition and a senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Last year in Virginia, there were 14 recorded cases of animal abuse, according to Pet-Abuse.com, an online database of such incidents. In 2011, there were 42 cases of animal abuse in Virginia.

“We support the Dangerous Dog Registry for tracking animals that may pose a threat to their communities, and we wholeheartedly support a registry for humans that pose a threat to the animals in their communities,” Cole said.

Cole believes one reason HB 2242 failed is because officials feared it would increase the workload on law enforcement officials and animal control officers.

“Most animal control departments are already underfunded, understaffed and struggle for tools, materials and training they need to perform their jobs at the highest level,” Cole said.

The Virginia State Police estimated that it would cost nearly $1 million to design and develop a new registry and website for animal abusers and more than $126,000 a year to maintain it. The agency said it didn’t know how much it would cost local law enforcement agencies to implement the animal abuser registry system.

But some citizens say it’s worth the cost.

“I think the registry would be a great idea. I just don’t understand why there isn’t one already. It doesn’t make any sense not to,” said Chesterfield resident Krystal Hambright, who recently became the owner of a German shepherd puppy.

“Maybe if there was an animal abuser registry, people would take animal abuse more seriously. I think that is very important.”

Sarah Burns of Chesterfield County also strongly supports legislation that would hold animal abusers under greater responsibility for their actions since one of her pit bulls, Joss, was a victim as a puppy.

“She had been shot at a month old during a domestic dispute,” Burns said about the puppy her boyfriend adopted. Joss still has the scars of the shot that was a through and through on her shoulders.

“As much as I try to expose her to people, men, other dogs, her first reaction is always fear – she doesn’t trust people easily, and I honestly don’t blame her,” Burns said. “The shooting was ruled an accident, and so I’m not sure if the previous owner served any time for it. I do know it took a good two or three months before Matt was able to adopt her, and she spent that time in the Chesterfield pound.”

Burns says it’s upsetting that the incident has had such a traumatic impact on her dog and she can’t even know whether the shooter was charged with a crime. She supports an animal abuser registry.

“Joss is a super needy dog – very anxious, feels the need to be very protective. And I think this has everything to do with her first three months of life,” Burns said. “It’d be nice to be able to know that people like that are being followed up on and communities can be warned.”

Advocates of an animal abuser registry haven’t given up. Cole and his organization are optimistic that the General Assembly will pass a bill similar to HB 2242 in 2014.

On the Web

The website of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria is http://alexandriaanimals.org

The website of the National Link Coalition is http://nationallinkcoalition.org/

To read or comment on House Bill 2242, visit the Richmond Sunlight website: www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2013/hb2242/