Animal Abuse Registry: How To Dig Holes

As soon as the news was out that the Suffolk County, New York, Legislature passed the new Animal Abuse Registry, it struck me as clear that we’re in for another wild ride.  Commentary since its passage is instructive, as it shows clearly how a bad idea gains support and momentum at the start, enough to push it headlong over the edge and onto the slippery slope.

At Above The Law, Elie Mystal, who ironically only days before opined that anti-bullying laws were bad as teacups needed to learn how to fend for themselves, went all jello over the animal abuse registry.

Parents don’t want their kids hanging out at the sex offender’s house next door, and they really shouldn’t want their kids hanging out with the neighbor who mistreats and harms defenseless animals as well. People who prey on weak animals will soon prey on weak people.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of animal rights. Awareness is high, and hopefully it won’t be long before all animal abusers can expect to suffer truly severe criminal penalties for their depraved actions.

Elie, Harvard undergrad and law, is a fan of animal rights.  Granted, that takes it a step beyond being a lover of animals, though it’s unclear what rights he would accord iguanas (for example), but with his very well-regarded education, one would suspect he’s given some modicum of thought to his public assertions.  And he just adores this Animal Abuse Registry.

Except his reasons, well, ignore the vast disconnect between reality and perception.  Notice the part where he talks to “severe criminal penalties?”  I would have guessed that they taught a bit of criminal law at Harvard, not that they would likely have use for it but at least so they could chat thoughtfully at cocktail parties.  Apparently, I would be wrong.

Elie’s animal fanaticism lapsed into the simple-minded equation:  Animal abuse is wrong, therefore anything that causes misery to animal abusers is good.  And this is how bad law happens.

At Huffington Post, the big tent that provides insight to thought deep and shallow, took its turn explaining the Animal Abuse Registry.

The law was prompted by a number of animal abuse cases in recent months, including that of a Selden woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying the pets in her backyard.

Horrible story.  Unfortunately, no mention of criminal prosecution and sanction, suggesting to the reader that but for this Animal Abuse Registry, this woman was in line for Pet Owner of the Year.  The post goes on to talk about this nefarious situation:

While some abuse is motivated purely by cruelty, Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross said, some recent cases are linked to the poor economy.

For instance, an emaciated Doberman mix was recently found near death inside a foreclosed-on home, he said. And sometimes, pet rescuer Cathy Mulnard said, elderly people on fixed incomes must decide between eating, or feeding their pets.

“They don’t mean to be bad to the animal, but they get overwhelmed and don’t know how to ask for help. They may be innocent abusers,” said Mulnard, a founder and co-director of Second Chance Rescue, a Suffolk animal shelter that works closely with the SPCA.

Mulnard called the legislation “a godsend for the animals.”

Already, the sick animal abusers, the ones likely to become serial murderers according to the law’s supporters, give way to poor grandma, penniless and unable to care for her beloved pet.  What about them, you wonder?  Collateral damage in the war against animal abuse, just as the 22-year-old peeing against a tree is collateral damage in the war against sex offenders. Screw ’em, at least for now.

The comments to the HuffPo and ATL posts are most telling.  All the animal lovers are clapping their hands, praising the Lord, passing the buck.  By and large, it’s no more cognizable to them than it is to Elie that being consigned to this registry comes after prosecution, after conviction, after sentence.  These are the stages at which penalties are imposed, yet not even our Harvard law grad shows the slightest recognition that the registry comes after the punishment, a back end piling on after the criminal has paid his dues to society. 

What will they have to say when instead of Fluffy found starved to death, they find grandma, who couldn’t afford to buy herself catfood to eat because her last $50 went to pay for the Animal Abuse Registry?  Sure, there will be some hand-wringing about a law taken too far, a law enacted without thought of consequences, a law that is goes too far since it only applies after the sentence in a criminal case?

Wait.  Only after a criminal sentence?  You mean they were already sentenced for their crime?  You mean they served their sentence, paid their dues, and only afterward do they get this dumped on them, on top of everything else?  You mean grandma, who loves kitty cats, gets swept in with the woman who does crush videos?  But, but, but…

Too late.  You all loved this registry at the outset because you only saw Fluffy’s sad face.  Too bad you didn’t bother to think at the time.  And this is how we dig ourselves into holes from which we never seem able to emerge. 

11 comments on “Animal Abuse Registry: How To Dig Holes

  1. Jeff Gamso

    There’s also this: Animals (unless it’s that dog on the internet) don’t read or use computers.

    The theory behind the sex offender registry, after all, was that people would check the lists and could then protect themselves by burning down the homes of nearby sex offenders. But the animals in the neighborhood mostly won’t be checking the registry.

  2. SHG

    The animals talk to each other at the fire hydrant.  Did you really think they like sniffing butt?  It’s just a scam to keep their “owners” in the dark.  They already know who’s who and what’s what.

  3. John Burgess

    Which state agency will be responsible for translating the list into all animal tongues so the critters can be informed of their rights?

    Will Google Translate be of any use?

    What about imported pets who may only understand, say, Chinese or Russian dialects of ‘cat’ or ‘iguana’?

    Is it animal cruelty to have wayward Fluffy’s not-yet-pups aborted?

    Who’s responsible for pet-on-pet violence?

    Clearly, these lawmakers have not thought things through. But that’s hardly new.

  4. SHG

    Pet on pet violence?  Are you not aware that pitbulls receive the death penalty for all offenses?  But do you hear Elie shouting, “Spare the pitbulls?”  Maybe they’re just defending themselves from the poodles, with their nasty temperament.

  5. Eric L. Mayer

    Already, when I represent a client who is facing charges that might require offender registration, I must inform them, in writing, of the possibilities and drawbacks of such a stigma.

    Now, I’m forced to wonder about the implications of this on my practice. What if I have a soldier is charged with a crime against an animal (a reasonable possibility)? If they plan to move back to Suffolk County, NY, I might be required to inform them the same way (if military courts regard all offender registries as similar in consequence).

    Ahh, I love second and third order effects.

  6. MAG

    It might still be possible to defeat this stupid registry idea. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy hasn’t signed the bill yet and another public hearing has been scheduled before County Executive Levy considers signing it:

    October 26, 9:30 a. m.
    Suffolk County Office Building
    100 Veterans Memorial Hwy
    Hauppauge, NY 11788

    A number of pro-animal, pro-human civil rights individuals & organizations, such as the Dog Federation of NY and the LI Coalition of Responsible Dog Owners, have been working to stop the registry. Legislators also need to hear from the criminal defense and from civil rights bars. Please try to attend the public hearing & speak against the registry, if you can, and/or write to Steve Levy and the members of the Suffolk County legislature to oppose this registry.

    I’ve been involved in animal rescue & animal law, including animal law bar association committees, for several years and have found that they rarely have any criminal defense attorneys as members. The committees are often heavily dominated by a certain type of animal activist with a pro-prosecution agenda (ALDF/HSUS/PETA supporters), who are routinely followed by attorneys who’ve never set foot inside a criminal court room. ALDF has been active in promoting Suffolk’s animal abuse registry and has a campaign to establish these registries all over the country. Animal advocates who care about civil rights and oppose these registries desperately need the support of the criminal defense and civil rights bars.

  7. MAG

    It’s astounding that the animal abuser registry law is being called Justin’s Law (see Animal Legal Defense Fund webpage: [Edit. Note: link deleted as per rules]). If, in fact, that dog was left behind by someone whose home was foreclosed, he’s not an example of repeat animal cruelty. I’m stunned by these constant but incredible claims that the spca finds so many animals covered in feces. This dog was supposedly left behind in a house. Unless he laid in his own feces, the only way I can see that he could have gotten feces on him would be if someone put it there – most likely the spca. Or, maybe, it wasn’t there at all – just another spca/aldf lie. If there really was a lot of feces in the house, that would certainly indicate the dog was eating. I also think there’s something ethically wrong with the fact that a Suffolk spca agent adopted him – he should have been offered to the public. At least, it’s now in the open that the bill was ALDF’s to begin with & they picked the lame duck Suffolk legislator who has been called one of the biggest fans of the “nanny state” to promote it.

  8. hrw

    i was curious about “the definitive list of registries” you mention, but the link is dead.

    Did this law make it a crime to move without notifying the registry? If not it is no where near as onerous as the sex offender registries. And as far as the client being defended, all he would have to do is move a few blocks away or even more likely to moot client’s inclusion, the client can move many miles with no ramifications.

  9. SHG

    The nature of the interwebz can be fickle. One day, a link is good. Two years later, it’s gone. There is, of course, this magical thing called google that allows us to find things out on the interwebz if we’re curious, like where that errant link went.

    As for what the registries require, the best way to get an answer is to look. But then, you may find that laws change, becoming increasingly onerous. Even so, it’s important not to be so cavalier as to say something like “all he would have to do is move a few blocks away.” Is that all? After all, it’s not like it’s you who has to move upon command, so what’s the problem?

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