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Establishing animal abuser registries is a campaign championed by the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) whose mission is to use the legal system to change the current property status of animals and advance the interest of animals in the legal system.

ALDF claims that convicted animal abusers pose a real, ongoing threat to your pets, your family, and your community. One selling point is that establishment of animal abuser registries would prevent access to those convicted of animal abuse from adopting or purchasing animals as it would either prohibit or alert pet stores and animal shelters from selling pets to anyone on the Animal Abuse registry.

ALDF asserts that registries will not only prevent criminal conduct, prevent recidivism, and save money, but will also raise public awareness about the connections between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. ALDF is a major promoter of the theory that animal abusers go on to victimize people. ALDF ignores opposing data and uses faulty logic to draw a straight line that will back up their claims.

The standard registry is modeled after and nearly identical to sex offender registries. The model legislation requires law enforcement to maintain a registry, process registrations, forward registration information obtained from the animal abuser to various state agencies, and contact every residence, school, humane society, animal shelter and businesses within a 1/2 mile radius of the animal abuser's residence providing them with the animal abuser's information (excluding social security number). Generally the registry creates a new crime and penalty for failure to register. Some registry bills include requirements for pet shops and shelters to check the registry before selling or face severe penalties.

The registry information would not in any way replace the due diligence required by rescues, shelters, or pet breeders before selling a pet to someone. In fact, having an animal abuser registry could give the public a false sense of security when it comes to placing pets. They might believe that if someone is not listed on such a registry that they are automatically a good pet owner. However, most registries would be so limited in scope that they would not and should not provide for approval of a potential pet purchaser.

Some states have already come under criticism for requiring registration and community notification for an ever-expanding list of offenses. The effectiveness of registries has also come under scrutiny. A federally funded study by the New Jersey Department of Corrections found that registries and notification did not reduce the number of new offenses or new victims. The study also noted that costs associated with the initial implementation as well as ongoing expenditures continue to grow over time.

The Crime Report carried an article, "Tracking Animal Abuse (and Abusers) on the Web" which reiterated the murky success of public registries. According to the article, two studies-one of a sample of Nebraska residents in 2008 and the other of Michigan residents in 2009-found that most of those surveyed had not looked at their state's sex offender registry. In the Nebraska survey, of those who did use the registry, few took preventive measures.

Critics say that while the registries are attractive to politicians who want to appear tough on crime, they often do little more than spread fear and encourage vigilantism. The monitoring systems cost money at a time when recession-strapped states can ill afford the extra expense, the critics say, and their effectiveness is dubious: Sex offender registries, for example, have had little success in reducing repeat crimes, studies suggest. States Seeking New Registries for Criminals By Erica Goode, NY Times

Do Sex Offender Registration and Notification Laws Affect Criminal Behavior?
J. J. Prescott - University of Michigan Law School; Jonah E. Rockoff - Columbia University - Columbia Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Abstract.We find evidence that registration reduces the frequency of sex offenses by providing law enforcement with information on local sex offenders. As we predict from a simple model of criminal behavior, this decrease in crime is concentrated among local victims (e.g., friends, acquaintances, neighbors), while there is little evidence of a decrease in crimes against strangers. We also find evidence that community notification deters crime, but in a way unanticipated by legislators. Our results correspond with a model in which community notification deters first-time sex offenses, but increases recidivism by registered offenders due to a change in the relative utility of legal and illegal behavior. This finding is consistent with work by criminologists suggesting that notification may increase recidivism by imposing social and financial costs on registered sex offenders and making non-criminal activity relatively less attractive. We regard this latter finding as potentially important, given that the purpose of community notification is to reduce recidivism.

Registries continue to be a major point of controversy. Maine's Supreme Court found portions of their Sex Offender Registry to be unconstitutional. Registration laws are generally overbroad in scope and overlong in duration, requiring people to register who pose no safety risk. Under community notification laws, anyone anywhere can access online registries for purposes that may have nothing to do with public safety. Harassment of and violence against registrants have been the predictable result.

A report by Human Rights Watch found the evidence is overwhelming that these laws cause great harm to the people subject to them. On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them. Even assuming some public safety benefit, however, the laws can be reformed to reduce their adverse effects without compromising that benefit. Registration laws should be narrowed in scope and duration. Publicly accessible online registries should be eliminated, and community notification should be accomplished solely by law enforcement officials.

Attempts to enact animal abuser registries have been unsuccessful to date in twenty-seven (27) states. Establishing the registry is generally an unfunded mandate with no mechanism to reimburse state departments or local law enforcement for the burden of constructing a database, maintenance, and notification requirements. Creating a new crime for failure to register involves additional costs for court and possibly correctional facility beds. Prisoners serving sentences for animal abuse represent a minute portion of prison population.

After suffering years of failure with their registry campaign, ALDF devised a plan to create its own "Do Not Adopt List" which would contain the names of animal abusers from all 50 states. List information would be obtained from district attorneys nationwide after cases have been disposed. To facilitate this plan, ALDF will have legislation introduced at the state level that will direct attorney generals to participate in sending case information to them. This idea could be a legal nightmare for any state releasing sensitive private information to a PRIVATE corporation. Once released the state loses control over what the radical organization, ALDF, might choose to do with that information. Enacting such a bill still carries a price tag. Participating in the ALDF registry scheme burdens the courts with additional data processing and system development cost. Although maintenance of the in-state database expense would be eliminated, the court system must still bear cost for development of tracking software, quality assurance for accuracy of the data transmitted, updates, and telecommunication charges.

In the 2015-2016 session, the Tennessee Legislature passed an online animal abuser registry with support of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI). Although the Fiscal Note always reported a very low cost, TBI now stated they could create and maintain the list on their website using current staff at no cost. It is unknown why legislators totally embraced the registry concept. TN became the first state in the nation to honor the ALDF campaign by passing a registry bill.

A full list of introduced bills, available fiscal information, and incarceration costs can be viewed in the Animal Cruelty Registry Bill Tracking spreadsheet.

California. The registry bill required specified individuals convicted of felony animal abuse to register for 10 years after the date of conviction; failure to register is punishable as a misdemeanor. The Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal estimated a cost of $750,000 to $2,000,000.

Colorado. An abuser registry bill was introduced January 2012 but failed. The bill would have kept offenders in the database for five years. State expenditures were estimated at $201,975 in the first year and $45,894 for each subsequent year with a one-time cost of approximately $160,000 to connect it with existing computer systems. Revenues were estimated to be less than $5,000.

Hawaii Although a Fiscal Note was not prepared, the Department of the Attorney General noted that only nine (9) potential covered offenders in the past fifteen years would be required to register under this proposed 2013 bill. The Office of the Public Defender submitted testimony in opposition of the registry. The letter stated that individuals convicted of animal cruelty do not typically prey on stray animals or pets that belong to strangers. The cases they have seen usually involve individuals abusing their own pets or a business owner and/or employee that mistreat their animals.

Louisiana Fiscal Office concluded the registry would cost $46,000 to implement and $126,000 over five years for very few offenders. The Fiscal Office added that only 5 offenders were currently incarcerated at state facilities for crimes against animals included in the proposed legislation.

Maine Although a fiscal note was note prepared, the Maine Municipal Association submitted testimony in opposition to implementation of a registry citing cost burdens to counties for managing this database and fulfilling notification requirements without any identified funding source. The ACLU of Maine also submitted testimony in opposition to creating a registry. ACLU stated that under current law, animal abusers were already punished and/or fined and can be prohibited from owning future pets for specified times. As part of the unintended consequences of a registry, people listed on the registry would be subject to ostracism that could diminish the likelihood of reintegration into society.

Nevada. An abuser registry bill was recently introduced but also failed. A fiscal note was prepared and submitted by Records & Technology, Department of Public Safety. The fiscal note stated, "This bill draft mirrors language contained in the statute establishing the Nevada Sex Offender Registry. Therefore, this fiscal note reflects the Records and Technology Division's best estimate of costs for a statewide animal abuser registry based on the costs for the existing Sex Offender Registry. That being said, there is no way to estimate how many persons convicted of crimes against animals would be included in the registry. Without that number, the Division is unable to establish the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) positions required to handle the caseload. However, best practices would suggest that at least 2 full time equivalent positions (FTE) would be necessary for this registry." Cost for FY 2011-2112 was estimated at $234,387 and over $300,000 going forward in 2013.

New York City. In testimony it submitted, The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) stated, "We have questions about the concept of animal abuse registries because we know of no evidence that they can achieve their purported aim, and we worry that they may instead unwittingly do more harm than good. There are serious practical issues surrounding the concept of animal abuser registries, including the risk that having animal cruelty crimes associated with a long-term abuser registry could inadvertently decrease the prosecution of such offenses, that registries overlook the importance of addressing mental health issues often seen in animal cruelty offenders and that properly maintaining an animal abuser registry requires that there is a uniform, centralized tracking of animal crimes, which currently does not exist."

Virginia. An abuser registry bill was introduced but failed. The Department of State Police estimated that approximately $986,000 would be needed to design and develop a new registry and website and an additional $126,411 each year for support. The note also stated the cost to local law enforcement agencies was not known at this time. The Virginia bill created a new crime for failure to register. The fiscal note estimated approximately $50,000 would be required for additional correctional facility beds.

Washington. The fiscal note estimates a one-time cost of approximately $27,800 for modifications to the judicial court system. A cost of $823,032 to state agencies to provide legal services to review and defend legal issues, development of the tracking tool and to populate the registry and the main web site, and data entry and quality assurance for accuracy of the data. In addition the fiscal note estimates a cost of approximately $1,200 to local governments for court impacts, including judicial costs, clerk costs, and court fees. Washington State averages 76 convictions a year. The Washington legislation also creates a new gross misdemeanor charge for animal abusers failing to register with the Attorney General. The Local Government Fiscal Note program (LGFN) assumes that rates of those failing to register would be equivalent to the rate of those failing to register for the sex offender registry. Approximately three percent of sex offenders are arrested each year for failure to register, and 2.6 percent are prosecuted, creating additional investigative and court costs at the local level. Additionally, several counties submitted fiscal notes addressing the potential impact. Churchill County NV submitted a fiscal note stating, "While animal abuse in any form is intolerable and should be punished to the maximum extent of the law, requiring the registration, tracking, notifications and reporting of any such person fitting the criteria set forth in this BDR by a local sheriff imposes a potentially burdensome and costly requirement on that office."

Megan's Law. Proposed animal abuser registries are modeled after Megan's Law. In New Jersey, start up costs for Megan's Law totaled $555,565, and by 2007 costs totaled approximately $3.9 million dollars for the responding counties. Source: Office of Policy and Planning, NJ Dept of Corrections: Megan's Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy December, 2008.

Data can be manipulated and facts can be ignored in order to come to a conclusion that fits a specific agenda. Registry advocates carefully frame the issue to emphasize certain aspects and downplay others. ALDF and registry supporters justify the need for a registry with the claim that convicted animal abusers pose a real, ongoing threat to pets, family, and community, further claiming their actions will escalate to committing crimes against people. Activists have even gone so far as to say animal abusers are potential serial killers. Advocates claim the registry will make neighborhoods and pets safer, but this promised scenario is an overly simplified solution to an extremely complicated, multifaceted problem.

Animal cruelty has gained recognition as a social issue that may be reflective of more extensive psychopathology, although much more research on the subject is needed. Animal cruelty cases are greatly varied, covering a broad spectrum of situations from extreme cruelty to neglect. Anyone – from dog fighters to an overwhelmed and underfunded animal rescuer to the neighborhood "cat lady" – can be charged and convicted of animal cruelty.

However, the vast majority of animal cruelty involves neglect by the animal’s owner and many cases often involve hoarders. Animal hoarding refers to the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that usually results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse. Animal hoarding is a mental disorder and approximately 40 percent of object hoarders also hoard animals. Hoarders have an intense emotional attachment to the animals in their care and confuse loving the animals with the reality of their inability to provide a safe, clean, and healthy home for them. Treatment of hoarders by mental health services seems a more prudent course of action in these situations than years of public exposure and humiliation on web site lists where they are unrealistically stereotyped as dangers to society.

Animal rightists are fond of citing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notes cruelty to animals as one of the traits appearing in the profile of serial murderers in their childhood. While animal cruelty in childhood may signal antisocial personality disorder later in life it is far from being the most prevalent behavioral trait exhibited by serial killers. Certainly it does not merit use as the sole indicator or basis for establishing registries for all animal abuse and neglect crimes. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Robert Ressler, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas examined the childhood traits of 36 serial killers for commonalities collectively expressed by the group. Out of 24 identified behaviors daydreaming ranked 1st, isolation 3rd, chronic lying 4th, bedwetting 5th, destruction of property 8th, fire setting 9th, cruelty to children 11th, and animal cruelty 18th. (Sexual Homicide Patterns & Motives, 1988)

In 2005 the FBI hosted a five day Symposium, “Serial Murder, Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators” attended by law enforcement, mental health, academic, and other experts who have studied serial killers. The goal of the Symposium was to bring together a group of respected experts on serial murder from a variety of fields and specialties, to identify the commonalities of knowledge regarding serial murder. Symposium attendees agreed that there is no single identifiable cause or factor that leads to the development of a serial killer. Rather, there are a multitude of factors that contribute to their development. The most significant factor is the serial killer’s personal decision in choosing to pursue their crimes.

Attendees also noted that there are no specific combinations of traits or characteristics shown to differentiate serial killers from other violent offenders. Section III-Causality and the Serial Murderer

Do Children Who Harm Animals Later Harm People?
Posted on October 17, 2002 by Brian Carnell. It has become almost a mantra within both animal rights circles and the larger mainstream media that children who harm animals are on the path to harming human beings. But is this claim true?

Manchester Metropolitan University researchers Heather Piper and Steve Myers looked at such claims and found a surprising lack of any actual valid evidence for it. They write,

A few years ago, the notion that abused children were likely to become abusers was common. This is no longer accepted as true. In this case the dominant view is that harming animals is directly linked to, or can be treated as part of a cycle leading to, violence towards people. It is suggested that the relationship is clear cut, consistent and predictable. This argument suggests that harming animals can be a predictive variable in indicating future harm to people. There are serious flaws in this argument. Although there may be some disturbed individuals who are cruel towards both animals and people, extreme cases do not provide the basis for generalized conclusions.

Piper and Myers identify two major problems with the alleged link between harming animals and harming people. First, the studies that claim to find such a link rarely define animal abuse in a methodologically sound way,

Few studies define what is animal abuse or violence or harm. Does cruelty include pulling the legs off spiders, or only those of vertebrates? Does it matter that one society eats dogs and another keeps them as pets? Richer children may legally kill animals through fox hunting, whereas poorer ones are prosecuted for similar behavior towards a cat or a dog.

Second, such studies have a deeper methodological flaw in who they choose to study,

Research supporting the supposed links is based mainly on extreme and non-representative samples. Accounts suggesting links between those who have harmed animals and later violence toward humans often rely on the same small sample of extreme criminals in the US. Researching a limited population to produce a broadly applicable generalization is problematic. Any number of life experiences could also be shown to correlate with the behavior.

A further problem is that much of the research tends to suffer from fallacies of logic. Just because some serial killers have harmed animals, this does not mean that all or even the majority of those who harm animals will become serial killers. Yet this stance is taken in much of the literature.

Piper and Myers conclude that "Social workers should not uncritically accept the arguments that have been put forward about linking animal and human violence." Source: Missing Link. Heather Piper and Steve Myers, Community Care, October 3, 2002, p.38.

Animal Abuse as a Sentinel for Human Violence: A Critique
Patterson-Kane, E. G. and Piper, H. (2009), Animal Abuse as a Sentinel for Human Violence: A Critique. Journal of Social Issues, 65: 589–614. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2009.01615.x
It has been suggested that acts of violence against human and nonhuman animals share commonalities, and that animal abuse is a sentinel for current or future violence toward people. The popular and professional acceptance of strong connections between types of violence is beginning to be used to justify social work interventions and to influence legal decision making, and so requires greater scrutiny. Examination of the limited pool of empirical data suggests that animal abuse is relatively common among men, with violent offenders having an increased probability of reporting prior animal abuse—with the majority of violent offenders not reporting any animal abuse. Causal explanations for “the link,” such as empathy impairment or conduct disorder, suffer from a lack of validating research and, based on research into interhuman violence, the assumption that violence has a predominant, single underlying cause must be questioned. An (over)emphasis on the danger that animal abusers pose to humans serves to assist in achieving a consensus that animal abuse is a serious issue, but potentially at the cost of failing to focus on the most common types of abuse, and the most effective strategies for reducing its occurrence. Nothing in this review and discussion should be taken as minimizing the importance of animals as frequent victims of violence, or the co-occurrence of abuse types in “at-risk” households. However, given the weakness of the underlying data, emphasizing the indiscriminate dangerousness of all animal abusers may have unforeseen and unwanted consequences.

Animal Abuse Registries - A Bad Idea

Simple Justice. Animal Abuse Registry: How To Dig Holes

LA Times Editorial: A registry of animal abusers is a bad idea

Be Scared: Westchester Creates Its Own Registry

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