Regular readers know that I have long supported the idea of having a national database of animal abusers as a tool for shelters (as well as rescues, breeders and everyone else who gives or sells pets to strangers) to help protect animals. I believe a brief adoption application, a photo ID (verifying the applicant’s name, address and date of birth) and a check for animal cruelty convictions should be the only screening methods used by any facility which kills animals.
In the absence of an official national database, we have use of the internet to search for animal cruelty convictions. But a well organized and monitored database containing reliable criminal conviction data from state records would be superior. Such a tool may be available soon:
An animal rights group out of California is creating a national database of convicted animal abusers. The Animal Legal Defense Fund of Cotati, California is asking states to provide public data in hopes of alerting adoption centers of convicted animal abusers.
HSUS however issued the following statement of opposition:
“Animal cruelty—like other crimes—must be reported, classified, and analyzed in a comprehensive manner that results in swift and efficient enforcement of the law and the general improvement of society. It is not clear that the current round of proposals to create a public registry database would materially advance these goals. In fact, it probably does nothing to help these people learn a new way of viewing and treating animals. Strengthening the human-animal bond is our ultimate goal, not deepening the break. We must utilize what energy and resources we can muster on the most effective approaches to the scourge of cruelty.”
Civil liberties groups also object to the registry on the grounds that it will be used to publicly shame individuals.
I asked several animal advocates for their thoughts on the cruelty database. They raise some interesting points.
Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center:
I would rather this be in the hands of accountable public officials, but in the absence of that, giving people with animals access to legally accurate information so that they can protect the animals in their care is important. As I wrote previously, “By knowing the right lies to tell and which truths to omit, convicted animal abusers can potentially acquire animals even from those who are dedicated to their protection but are currently forced to operate in a state of ignorance simply because they lack access to valuable information that would help them make better, more informed choices about the animals in their care.” Although this was written to support a model law, the proposed database likewise would “strip abusers of this advantage and prevent future animal abuse with nothing more than a few simple strokes of a keyboard.” As to HSUS, this is another example of their putting abusers before animals.
Christie Keith, journalist and shelter pet advocate:
In general, I oppose anything that reinforces the widely held and false idea that there is an army of animal abusers lining up to adopt pets from shelters and rescue groups. The hysterical aversion to Craigslist, draconian adoption policies, and onerous screening and application processes are hindrances, not helps, to finding good homes. I also have a concern that this registry would simply reflect the unfairness of our criminal justice system, with its heavy bias against the poor and people of color.
All that said, as a journalist, I believe in the right of the public to be able to easily obtain public information. To say that public information should be available, just hard to find, is hypocritical.
If civil liberties groups like the ACLU — an organization I normally support — want to end the public availability of criminal convictions and trial records after a sentence is served, they can advocate for that. But to oppose putting this public information in a searchable database so citizens can access it seems contrary to the ACLU’s own beliefs.
Ann Brownell, board vice president at UPAWS:
In my personal opinion I think it is a good idea. We have a “Do Not Adopt” list that we check for every adoption we do, but personally I think to have a larger database to check would be a benefit. The bottom line for shelter and rescues is protecting the pets they are finding new homes for. It would not be the intent to shame anyone. I am all for people getting help and being rehabilitated. But if they are habitual and convicted animal abusers, shelters and rescues should be able to get that information for the sake of the lives they are saving, rescuing and protecting.
Denice Ryan Martin, Wisconsin Voters for Companion Animals:
I think that all the major animal welfare groups (ALDF, Best Friends, No Kill Advocacy, HSUS, ASPCA, American Humane Assocation) should collaborate on this critical issue. They should start a healthy dialogue with each other and settle on a model that makes sense for all fifty states and that legislators will embrace on fiscal, practical, policy and emotional levels.
If the ALDF model, or a version of it, makes sense, then all the groups should endorse it. If we all present a united force against animal abusers, then perhaps positive change will take place.
What are your thoughts on a national database of animal abusers? As an adopter, would you object to having your name searched in the database by an organization from which you wanted to obtain a pet? As someone giving or selling pets to strangers, would you make use of such a national registry in screening applicants? What potential benefits and/or downsides might an animal abuse registry offer that currently do not exist?