November 4, 2010
Last month, Suffolk County became a leader in animal abuse protection. Suffolk County legislators passed a law calling for the nation’s first animal abuse registry. The law requires those convicted of abusing animals to register their name, address, and a photograph with the registry. Sensitive to the concerns about the cost of maintaining such a registry, the legislation also required that each offender must pay an annual fee of $50 for the five years they are required to register with the database. Additionally, the database will not be run by Suffolk County, but by the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If a convicted abuser fails to register, they will face either jail time or a significant fine of $1,000.
MEGAN’S LAW FOR ABUSEDANIMALS
The registration of convicted criminals is nothing new. Megan’s Laws, designed to assure the authorities and public of the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders, have been in effect for years. The animal abuse registry is designed to have a similar effect. The list of abusers will be open to the public, so that pet owners and neighbors may know who, within their community, is potentially a threat to their companion animals.
The motivation for the law’s passage is really two fold. First, Suffolk County has been home to a number of horrid animal abuse cases within the past year. Most notably, a Selden woman who tortured, killed and buried kittens, cats, and dogs in her backyard made national headlines as her heinous acts were finally halted after her children reported her to the authorities. The second motivation for the bill’s passage, was articulated best by the registry’s champion, Suffolk County legislator Jon Cooper. Cooper told reporters, “[w]e know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence… Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals.” Cooper observations have long been known to those working within the field of animal abuse and domestic violence.
A New Jersey study found that 88% of families with children that had experienced physical abuse, also recorded incidents of animal abuse within the home. Also, it is estimated that 88% of pets living in households with domestic abuse are either abused or killed. The link between animal abuse and serial killers is also very real. Studies have showcased that the vast majority of convicted serial murders have had a history of animal abuse. This list includes people such as the Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo.
The idea for the registry was nothing new. In fact, the registry has been or is currently being considered in a number of states and counties, including California, Minnesota and New York State. The registry is the brainchild of Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), an organization dedicated to protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. ALDF’s hope is that, as with the proliferation of Megan’s Law a decade ago, Suffolk County’s passage of the animal abuse registry will translate into the passage of similar laws throughout the nation.
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