Legislator Proposes Online Animal Abuser Registry

Apr 10, 2012

Legislation is pending in Michigan that would require convicted animal abusers to sign up for an online registry, similar to Michigan’s sex offender list.   Proponents say it would help animal control officers investigate and prosecute abuse cases, and also prevent potential violence against humans.

If the proposal becomes law, Michigan would be the first state in the nation to have such a registry.

Jamie McAloon-Lampman has a dog sleeping in her office.  She's director of Ingham County Animal Control.  She says the minute she saw the dog, she knew it had been abused.

“This is a dog that has suffered some sort of mistreatment, because she wouldn’t even raise her head to look at you, and no eye contact, “says McAloon-Lampman.  “That poor little dog.  You couldn’t walk up to it without it flinching and dodging, as though the only interaction it’s had is to have been beaten, hit or chased.”

This dog was found wandering on the streets, and animal control officers have no idea who abused her, but McAloon-Lampman says often they do find abusers and prosecute them.

“We have a cat right now that was shot with a 22 in a neighborhood in Lansing,” says McAloon-Lampman.  “We’re getting ready to put rewards out. Somebody who lives in that area is shooting cats, because the people who found the cat had been feeding a couple of other cats, and other cats have disappeared.  We have a little bullet, so, we’ll find that person, possibly.  We find a lot of them.”              

State Representative Harvey Santana says an online database of abusers could help animal control officers, as they try to track down whoever is shooting cats.   His proposal would require adults who are convicted of animal abuse to register their name, photo and address online. They’d also have to notify police whenever they move.  Santana says the main goal is to reduce the number of animal victims.

“It’s an interest of mine because I am the owner of a world champion mutt,” says Santana, “Bailey is a part of our life.  He’s a family member, and a lot of people feel that way about their animals. Cats, horses, you name it.”

Animal shelters, pet stores and breeders would have access to the registry, which would identify people who shouldn’t be allowed to have animals.

“What I want to do is create a registry so that if this individual goes to a pet store, goes to an animal shelter, goes to a breeder, the animal agency would have to look to see if this person is an animal abuser,” says Santana. “If that’s the case, then they cannot have this animal.”

The movement toward online registries for animal abusers started a couple of years ago in Suffolk County, New York.  Two other counties in New York have since set up abuser lists.  These databases are available to the public online.  This way, residents are aware of abusers living in their neighborhood and can take precautions to protect their pets.

So far, no state has adopted a statewide registry, although several states have legislation pending. 

Santana says a registry could also prevent potential violence against people. Animal abuse often escalates to abuse of family members and others.  He cites a study by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Women who are involved in an abusive relationship are involved with an individual where there is an 85 per cent chance that they are abusing animals or have been involved in animal abuse,” says Santana.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and others started as animal abusers.  Supporters of a registry say the list would allow law enforcement to keep a close watch on people who abuse animals.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the idea, saying it’s unconstitutional for governments to impose additional punishments on people who’ve already paid their debt to society.

The Michigan State Police would administer the registry, but so far the department has not taken a position on it.

Santana says he has bipartisan support in the legislature and will push the legislation when lawmakers return to Lansing next week. 

“Look, this is a cross-political issue,” says Santana. “There are no Republican dogs.  There are no Democratic cats.  There are just animals, and this is a winnable issue for both sides.”

At Ingham County Animal Control, director Jamie McAloon-Lampman says she recognizes that a registry would stigmatize people who are convicted of animal abuse.  But, she says, if Michigan sets up a registry, she will use it. 

“I have 1,500 animals I’m going to place this year, and I want to make sure they’re not going to somebody who has a record out there,” says McAloon-Lampman.