With decades of research on the topic, scientists and advocates have learned a lot about the correlation between pet abuse and domestic violence as well as the importance of this relationship. Monitoring past instances of animal abuse can be used for early identification of potential abusers for both human and animal victims. It is for this reason that many states have begun to consider creating an animal abuse registry, similar to the more widely known Sex Offender registry. Intentional animal cruelty is of concern as it is often a sign of psychological illness. Repeated offences frequently show that the individual may be predisposed to committing acts of violence towards humans. Since this is a warning sign of possible violent behaviors, tracking animal abusers could be beneficial in ensuring the protection of both animals and people. Therefore, making and sustaining a registry of those convicted of animal abuse will be an asset in discovering and preventing possible future instances of criminal behavior.
In an effort to take animal abuse cases more seriously, deter actions, and provide more substantial punishments to those who mistreat animals, animal abuser registries are becoming popularized within the United States. The registry requires convicted offenders to record their name, address, and image online. Consequently, this prohibits them “from owning, possessing, residing with, having custody of, or intentionally engaging in any physical contact with any animal” (NYC Health, “Frequently Asked Questions”). The government hopes these registries will provide peace of mind to communities by alerting “the public to the presence of animal cruelty offenders in the community” while providing ‘heightened scrutiny of individuals perceived to be at high risk of re-offense to animals or people” (ASPCA, “Position Statement”). It provides a tool to allow people to be more alert to those individuals convicted of cruelty to animals. Advocates claim that the stigma of being registered for all to see will serve to deter people from committing animal crimes. As part of the law, pet stores, shelters, and employees of other certain animal-related businesses and organizations are required to check these registries before finalizing the sale of an animal. They are also expected to refuse to sell or transfer ownership of an animal to anyone listed on the registry. Such registries have already been enacted in states such as New York and Tennessee.
Although the registries that are currently established are quite new and haven’t seen much use just yet, one of the New York registries prevented a New York man in Massena from purchasing replacement animals just a few months after being convicted of animal cruelty and abuse. This man’s dog had “died after being left unattended for hours in his car while at the state fair. The same man also was facing allegations that he neglected 22 horses and had a foal in his care die at his St. Lawrence County farm” (Parker, “State Animal Abuse Registry”). A substantial part of the opposition that creating a centralized animal abuse registry faces has to do with the worry that the expensive system will be underutilized. Although this is just one example, when given the resources, large-scale organizations, privately owned pet stores and breeders, and even individuals looking for good homes for their kittens and puppies have shown that they are grateful for and are willing to utilize the system to help screen potential owners.
While the main and most obvious purpose of creating a registry is to prevent those with an abuse record from acquiring animals in the future, there is also a focus on how “the registries could serve the dual purpose of identifying people who are at an increased risk of being involved in domestic violence disputes or carrying out violent attacks against other people” (Carrozza, “Animal Abuser Registry”). Most of the research in this area has involved interviewing or administering questionnaires to victims in domestic abuse shelters to determine the prevalence of companion animal abuse. Studies dating from 1998 to present have reported that “approximately half of domestic abuse victims have witnessed threats toward, or the actual abuse of a companion animal” (Newberry, “Pets in Danger”). The studies have releveled that nearly 92% of domestic abuse perpetrators reportedly used threats to the victim’s pets were used as a means of generating fear to maintain control of the abused. Reaffirming the suspected correlation between animal and human abuse. Many children involved in domestic abuse cases reportedly believed “that threats and harm directed at pets aimed to create and maintain fear in the home, isolate the mother, and prevent or punish the mother’s attempts to be independent or leave the relationship” (Carrozza, “Animal Abuser Registry”).
On top of these high rates of animal to human abuses, a study conducted by the United Kingdom’s HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that police officers called for instances of domestic abuse often “didn’t take the situation seriously” or recorded inadequate evidence: “The inspectors, who interviewed hundreds of victims, found many felt they not been taken seriously or “felt judged” when they alerted police” (Morris, “Domestic Violence Victims”). This is most likely due to the fact that when police arrive, the violent conflict has already ended. This leaves many of the cases as a ‘their word against mine’ type of scenario. These studies did not include a large portion of Hispanic participants; however, considering the statistics of the study groups, imposing harsher punishments and psychological evaluations for animal abusers would prove to be an effective way of reducing the number of domestic abuse cases. It can also provide police officers a basis of action to go off of when they are called for instances of domestic abuse.
Although there is a definitive connection between violence and animal abuse, some argue that animal abuse does not necessarily precede other forms of violence. While this may be true in some cases, as it was identified in a 2008 study, committing acts of violence toward animals as a child is “one of the most reliable predictors of future violence” (Hodges, “The Link”). In fact, 100% of sexual homicide offenders had a history of cruelty towards animals. This is because people who have either witnessed or partaken in violent acts in the past have “become desensitized to it. Research shows that the more often someone is exposed to a certain situation, the more comfortable that person becomes with it” (Hodges, “The Link”). This perpetuates the cycle of violence through childhood and into that child’s teenage and adult life. One such example is the mass school shooting which occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 in which 17 people were killed.
This event has since brought amplified attention to discussions of all kinds related to gun violence. Among those conversations is the link between animal abuse and violent crimes against people (Carrozza, “Animal Abuser Registry”). Reportedly, the gunman who caused these shootings had been known to abuse animals when he was younger and “had a history of shooting small animals for fun” (Esch, “States Consider Animal Abuser List”). Although there is no way to know for certain, many experts believe that the number of tragedies such as the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School could be lessened or even averted if these individuals are screened as a potentially dangerous threat due to a psychological condition early on. One of the intended goals of these registries is to identify people with mental disorders and provide them with the support and treatment they require.
Although proposed registry is supported by over 83% of Americans (The Tylt, “Nationwide Animal Abuser Registry?”), the concept is not without opposition. There are still those who worry about the logical and ethical side of creating a system that requires such involvement to maintain and operate. Many animal rights organizations, including the ASPCA, feel that efforts would be better spent further enforcing the already established means of dealing with animal abusers such as “mandated psychological assessment[s]” and the “inclusion of pets in orders of protection” (ASPCA, “Position Statement”). This means that animals will be removed from a hostile or dangerous environment along with the victim. The ASPCA in particular worries about the phycological effects of requiring people to publicly register online may have on already mentally affected individuals. Many opposing voices believe the creation will lead to serious crimes being pardoned with offenders only needing to register their names. There is also a concern for the human aspect. Some organizations feel that those on the registry will only be further distanced from the rest of society and feel mandated mental counseling would be more useful.
On paper, this alternative may sound like a kinder option to those who abuse animals and people. However, depending on how soon or late in their lives patients are offered care, mandating counseling may not be any less of a ‘distancer’ for those with mental health issues. Even if no discrimination is present, those receiving mental care, especially “forced” mental care, feel stigmatized, at least in the beginning (Henderson, et al., “Mental Illness Stigma”). It also isn’t a guaranteed ‘cure’ for older patients who already feel that they don’t belong in their environment. Change can’t be forced on an individual; mental health counseling works best for those who either seek out help and want to change for themselves: “many of these patients [receiving mandated care] derive little benefit from available treatment programs because they often do not adhere to medication regimens or keep scheduled appointments” (Monahan, et al., “Mandated Treatment”), or are still teens or young adults.
Mandated mental care would be most effective if it was identified and administered early on; before the individual begins committing more severe forms of violence and further distances themselves from the rest of society. All considered, none of these alternatives explicitly prohibit abusers from obtaining new animals or track any of their previous offences of animal abuse. So, it is impossible for law enforcement to identify whether an individual merely neglected an animal or has a genuine need for mental help. There is also nothing stating that laws have to be mutually exclusive to either providing mental counseling or registering names to the online databases. Supporters hope that future laws include multiple levels of preventative action to ensure other offences do not occur. It is for these reasons that, on top of other forms of prevention, animal abusers should be recorded to alert others of the potential danger of allowing past animal abusers to adopt in the future.
Animal abuser registries are intended to provide law enforcement and private entities information regarding those convicted of animal abuse. While there are concerns surrounding the creation of a national database, many feel that it will be useful not only in identifying those who are of potential danger to pets and animals, but also in identifying and providing help for mentally ill people before they become secluded from the rest of society.
“This will be a very useful and objective tool for us to lean on when it comes to denying adopters. Now, it won’t just be our gut instinct — we have actual documentation to lean on” (qtd. in Brulliard, “Animal Abusers Registered Like Sex Offenders”)