On January 1, 2016 Tennessee, the first state to adopt an animal abuse registry, went live with it registry. As of January 13, 2016, the state reports that “[a]t this time, no individuals meet the legal requirement for inclusion on the registry.”
Theoretically then, the registry will only include the names of alleged abusers who are found liable under the statute as of or after the date of its enactment.
Other jurisdictions, including the Missouri and New Jersey, are considering adopting laws that require the establishment of animal abuse registries.
In Missouri, HB 1707 seemingly only requires the maintenance of a list of offenders by the state police:
Beginning January 1, 2017, the Missouri state highway patrol shall post a publicly accessible list on its website of any person convicted of an animal abuse offense on or after such date. The list shall include a photograph taken of each convicted animal abuser as part of the booking process, the animal abuser’s full legal name, and other identifying data as the highway patrol determines is necessary to properly identify the animal abuser and to exclude innocent persons. The list shall not include the animal abuser’s Social Security number, driver’s license number, or any other state or federal identification number.
Unlike other adopted or proposed registries (like New York City’s registry which bans pet ownership for 5 years after the conviction of certain offenses, or one of New Jersey’s proposed bills which would ban someone from working in an animal-related enterprise after a conviction or plea of guilt to any criminal or civil complaint of animal cruelty) the Missouri registry currently does not include any penalty other than what could result from the inclusion on such a public list.
Animal cruelty is abhorrent and should be condemned and punished.
However, the impact of animal abuse registries cannot be understated.
Most animal cruelty cases are heard in municipal courts, where plea bargains are common. An accused defendant may not know about the rapid expansion of these registries which could affect his ability to continue to own pets or obtain a job in another jurisdiction, and could decide to accept a plea with a modest fine, instead of defending his innocence at much greater cost. If that individual were to move to a jurisdiction with an animal abuse registry that decision (to plead guilty to a simple animal cruelty offense even if innocent)could affect his ability to own a pet or get a job.
As the consequences of animal cruelty charges escalate, we should expect to see more rigorous defense of unsubstantiated allegations of animal cruelty.