Pet Politics: City Council Considers Animal Abuser Registry

Some might say it’s only puppy love, but councilman Peter Vallone Jr. is counting on a deep reserve of animal

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Some might say it’s only puppy love, but councilman Peter Vallone Jr. is counting on a deep reserve of animal love to pass a City Council bill that would create an animal abuse registry—making New York City the largest jurisdiction in the country with such a database.

“It’s modeled after the sex offender registry,” Mr. Vallone said. “If you’re on the registry, you would not be able to adopt or buy a pet in the city. This list would be provided electronically to all animals stores, shelters and law enforcement agencies.”

Mr. Vallone introduced the bill—co-sponsored by council members Vincent Gentile and Elizabeth Crowley—to the council this month, saying that he had been inspired after a case last year in Astoria in which “a punk on Steinway Street threw a little dog out the window to its death.”

“It really outraged the community and got us to think what we could do,” the Queens councilman said.

The proposed bill would mandate that anyone convicted of any form of animal abuse—which could include animal fighting, abandonment, aggravated cruelty and failure to provide proper sustenance—would be on the registry for 5 years following their first offense and for 10 years following any additional convictions. Animal ownership would be prohibited for any individual on the list, a restriction that is often, but not universally, mandated as a condition of probation for those who are convicted of animal abuse.

Like the sex offender registry, the animal abuse registry would rely on self-reporting by individuals who move to New York City, with those who fail to report to the registry, or are found to own an animal despite being on, or eligible for it, facing up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Currently, there are three animal abuse registries in the United States, all of them in New York state, although registries have been proposed in other states and regions. In 2010, Suffolk Country became the first place in the country to create a registry—protect those Hamptons polo ponies! Rockland and Albany counties followed. Two bills that are currently before the state assembly—S. 3804 and A. 1506—are also seeking to create animal abuse registries that would apply to the entire state.

It is unclear how difficult it might be to enforce self-reporting by animal abusers, given that probation periods, particularly for misdemeanor-level offenses, might not stretch to lengths as long as 5 years. Currently, the City Council bill would mandate that animal shelters consult the list before allowing an individual to adopt a pet, but would apply to pet stores—which are regulated by the state—on a volunteer-only basis.

“There’s a sense that as with sex offenders, people should be able to identify dangerous individuals in their community,” said Lisa Franzetta, the spokeswoman for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has been a strong supporter of and advocate for animal abuser registries. (It is unclear if the New York City registry would be available to the public at large, or only to animal adoption organizations).

Ms. Franzetta said that animal abuse registries tend to garner broad support when they have been proposed (indeed, those who decry the lack might take some comfort from the fact that regardless of their differences, Democrats and Republicans can find common ground when it comes to a mutual hatred of sex offenders and animal abusers). The only opposition to registries, said Ms. Franzetta, is generally rooted in cost concerns, although estimates for the costs of registries vary widely.

Has Mr. Vallone encountered any opposition in New York?

No, not really, he said. He thought the health department, which would likely be the agency responsible for maintaining the registry, might oppose it on grounds that they didn’t have the resources, but they have yet to speak out on the measure.

And, despite the fact that registries might be available to the general public—subjecting convicts who have paid their debt to society to possible prejudice—civil liberties groups have been uncharacteristically quiet about the whole thing. Mr. Vallone said that he’d like any registry to be available to the general public, but realized that it might present legal issues. Like the time he tried to shame subway flashers.

“I asked the MTA to put up pictures of convicted subway flashers in their stations,” Mr. Vallone explained. “Their attorneys argued that it would be additional punishment to what they were sentenced to. I disagree. I think there’s enough of a government interest in keeping people safe.”

The New York ASPCA gave its cautious assent, writing in an email to The Observer that it “supports any legislative initiative that aims to protect animals from abuse and neglect,” and that it is “in the process of exploring both the general concept of animal abuse registries and the specifics of this particular bill to determine whether they will indeed provide such enhanced protections.”

The Observer also reached out to a number of pet stores.

“Oh, I think that’s wonderful, I love that idea,” said Howard Binder, the manager of Pets on Lex, who learned of the bill when we reached him over the phone on Tuesday.

A group of dogs walking through Central Park also barked eagerly when asked, we think in approval.

Pet Politics: City Council Considers Animal Abuser Registry