Revised animal-abuser registry going to lawmakers

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A revised version of a local law on animal abuse in Oneida County would remove the proposed penalty against someone who sells an animal to a convicted abuser, and would specifically exempt farms where an abuser works or shares the business with other people.

The revised animal abuse registry was distributed to county lawmakers last week and is scheduled for consideration leading up to the Board of Legislators’ Sept. 11 monthly meeting.

The revised version also reduces the maximum fine for convicted abusers who then own an animal from the earlier proposed $5,000 to $1,000.

The revisions follow plans for the registry announced in April by County Executive Anthony Picente Jr., District Attorney Scott McNamara and Sheriff Rob Maciol. The measure followed some widely publicized animal abuse cases.

The measure would establish a website similar to that of sex offenders, with offenders’ names, residences, birth dates, photos and descriptions of the offenses. 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.

When the measure establishing the registry came before the Board of Legislators in May, Chairman Gerald Fiorini, R-Dist. 7 of Rome and Lee, withdrew it at the request of lawmakers who’d raised objections. Board majority leader George Joseph, R-Dist. 10 of Kirkland, Rome and Westmoreland, and Keith Schiebel, R-Dist.1 of Vernon, Verona and Sherrill, objected to the possibility of having a whole farm being subject to the law because of abuse by one employee or corporate member.

The revised version has a paragraph specifying that a violation by a person employed by or acting for a farm owner, association or corporation would not extend to the farm or corporation, and that only the violator would have to register as an abuser. It further says the provision of state agriculture and markets law that extends penalties for violations on a farm to the whole farm shall not apply.

Another change was eliminating a penalty on people who knowingly sell animals to convicted animal abusers on the registry. The revised version says only that a seller “is encouraged to examine” the abuser registry. Joseph noted that in counties that have registries, there have been only a handful of offenders needing to be registered.

“Those people didn’t do anything wrong,” Joseph said. “Why would you put the burden on them to check each and everything, especially when it may amount to only two registered offenders every 30 years.”

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 and making sure judges have the authority to order no contact with animals. It says registries typically have a limited reach because they’re in effect only in certain jursidictions, 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.

“The ASPCA supports efforts that raise awareness of the seriousness of animal abuse as a significant crime and bring attention to the connection between animal cruelty and other forms of violence,” the organization said. “But there is no evidence that animal abuse registries can achieve their purported aim, and they may even unwittingly do more harm than good by diverting resources that could otherwise help law enforcement and animal control agencies prevent cruelty before it occurs.

“Instead of spending money on unproven and impractical tactics, we encourage communities to focus their efforts on strengthening and broadening existing animal cruelty laws, as well as making effective use of no-contact orders and provisions to include animals in domestic violence protective orders. These are all priorities that, in contrast, can yield significant results.”

It says registries typically have a limited reach because they’re in effect only in certain jursidictions, 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.

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