States Look to Establish Online Animal Abuser Registries

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A movement that started in Suffolk County, N.Y., is quickly spreading across the country.

Its goal: to require animal abusers to sign up for online registries, much like those required for sex offenders.

The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals was the first in the country to set up an online registry in 2010,  where convicted animal abusers must register a photo and current address for ten years as well pay a $50 per year fee.

Now, as many as five states, including Arizona, Maryland, Florida, New York, and Colorado, have legislation pending.

Senator Ronald Young of Maryland is working on drafting his version of the bill after he said he received reports of a puppy being shot by a bow and arrow and a small dog being thrown out of a window from 23 stories within his district.

"I'm a pet owner, and I've also met and talked with a lot of people and groups that support it," Young said. "People with pets should know who is living near them for the protection of their own animals. We want to prevent future victims."

"Dexter's Law," Florida Senator Mike Fasano's proposed legislation, sets the same parameters as Suffolk County and Maryland's bills, and Fasano said he has received an overwhelming positive response from his constituents.

Representatives of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization that works to promote animal protection, said their baseline legislation has two goals.

The first, to reduce the number of animal victims by raising awareness in communities, and, the second, to help communities save money by reducing rehabilitation costs.

"It's a doable proposal and it will not only help animals and save money, but also prevent potential violence against human beings," said Stephan Otto, attorney and director of legislative affairs for ALDF.

Otto said many animal abusers have a strong risk of becoming human abusers, and the registry allows more eyes in the community to watch them and prevent future violent crimes.

The Suffolk County registry requires abusers convicted of both misdemeanors and felonies to register with the site, but no names are registered on the site yet because it was just recently established.

Chief Roy Gross of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said they received dozens of calls from other municipalities and legislators who were interested in following in the county's footsteps.

"This law is long past due and we worked very hard to support the proposal," Gross said. "We are pleased this law was enacted, and were hopeful that other cities in the country will also do it. We would like to see some eventually be done federally as well."

Fasano disagreed, saying he believes it is an issue that should be handled on a state-by-state level.