Oneida County legislators approved a law setting up a public registry of convicted animal abusers but only after tweaking it to make it less worrisome to farmers.
The Board of Legislators approved the law by acclimation Wednesday at the regular September meeting, shortly after the Ways and Means Committee gave its approval.
Its central part is setting up an online registry, to be maintained by the Sheriff’s Office, of people convicted of animal abuse in the county.
The measure would establish a website similar to that of sex offenders, with offender’s names, residence, birth dates, photo and a description of the offense. Exceptions would be made for service animals, as defined by state and federal law, or someone who uses one and lives at the same address as an offender.
County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., Sheriff Rob Maciol and District Attorney Scott McNamara announced plans for the law in May, but when a handful of legislators raised concerns regarding its effect on farming, Chairman Gerald Fiorini pulled it from consideration and sought revisions to address those concerns.
The revised version adopted Wednesday specifically exempts farms where an abuser works or shares the business with other people and reduces the maximum fine for convicted abusers who then own an animal from the earlier proposed $5,000 to $1,000. Also dropped was making it an offense to sell or adopt out an animal to someone on the registry. The revised version simply recommends checking the registry first.
McNamara told the Ways and Means Committee the main effect of the law, though, is the registry. He compared it to the sex-offender registry: Offenders are often less concerned about jail time or fines than being on the public registry.
“They don’t care about going to jail for the weekends. They don’t care about being put on probation. ‘Don’t make me a sex offender.’ I’m hoping this law has the same effect for people that decide that they’re going to abuse their dogs or leave their dogs in a car.”
McNamara told the committee he had no problems with the earlier version because prosecutors’ discretion and understanding of farm practices guard against concerns some legislators had that it could be used against agriculture. Prosecutors know it’s common practice to leave cattle outside in the winter or to use a cattle prod to get them to move, but not OK to do that with a dog, for instance, he said. And he predicted few cases will need to be made using the law.
“If I prosecute one case in the next 10 years I will be surprised.”
Two legislators largely responsible for getting the law revised supported it on Wednesday: Majority Leader George Joseph, R-Dist. 10 of Kirkland, Rome and Westmoreland, and Keith Schiebel, R-Dist.1 of Vernon, Verona and Sherrill.
Schiebel predicted the issue will surface on the state level in about five years. He noted a convicted seller could simply travel to a neighboring county. He also warned that some practices common on many farms may be seen by animal-rights advocates as abuse, including tail docking, the practice of tying off a young dairy cow’s tail to improve sanitation and workers’ safety. Some large milk-handling companies won’t take milk from farms that practice it for fear of backlash, Schiebel said. “They’re worried about public perception.”
Support for the registry approach is not universal among animal advocates.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does not endorse them, instead favoring stronger penalties for abuse.
It says registries typically have a limited reach because they’re in effect only in certain jurisdictions, encourage defendants to plead down to lesser offenses to avoid the public notice, don’t address many sources of pets, can create a vigilante mentality, and do not apply to sources of pets beyond sellers and shelter adoptions. Further, the organization says, similar registries for other crimes have not been validated as effective.