While online registries containing information about convicted animal abusers are available in some U.S. cities, most notably New York, there is currently no statewide registry.
That will change on Jan. 1, 2016, when Tennessee will become the first state to have an animal abuse registry.
“We proposed this law not just to take a stand against animal cruelty, but to take concrete action to prevent abuse and deter those who repeatedly engage in the torture and killing of animals,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the sponsor of a bill that led to the creation of the statewide registry, told the Huffington Post.
Similar to a sex offender registry, Tennessee’s animal abuse registry will contain the names, current photographs and other identifying data of adults who have been convicted of felonies including aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, bestiality and related offenses, and cruelty to animals.
The information will be compiled by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and posted on its website. Only abusers convicted on or after Jan. 1, 2016, will be listed.
“First-time offenders will stay on the registry for two years — you know, make them think twice before they…abuse or neglect an animal,” Wendy Palmer of the Greene County Humane Society told WJHL.
The registry will make it easier for animal shelters and rescue organizations to identify people who should never have pets. And since animal abusers often move on to violence against people (serial killers Robert Durst, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy all started out by torturing animals), it could prove helpful to law enforcement.
Opponents of animal abuse registries say they could encourage offenders to plead guilty to lesser offenses to avoid being listed.
When a statewide animal abuse registry was proposed in California five years ago, Randall Lockwood, a cruelty expert with the ASPCA, was opposed to it.
“An upside is that a registry enlists the public in the monitoring process,” he told USA TODAY in February 2010. “But many worry a spirit of public vigilantism could arise, prompting people to take revenge on an offender who in their minds has not been suitably punished by the legal system.”
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, is also not a fan of animal abuse registries. “When someone is convicted and punished for cruelty, does shunning or shaming them forever do any good for any animals?” he asked in 2010.
Instead of registries, Pacelle suggested that “efforts to stop animal abuse and improve public safety should focus on upgrading criminal animal cruelty and neglect penalties and encouraging more vigorous application of these laws.”
Sen. Yarbro told the Huffington Post the statewide Tennessee animal abuser registry won’t take resources away from law enforcement efforts.
“Given the documented link between abuse of animals and violence against people, I think states should consider registries and numerous other measures to put a stop to such cruelty,” Yarbro said.
Emily Strope, adoption coordinator for the Downtown Dogs Group rescue organization in Jackson, Tenn., plans to regularly check the registry once it’s up and running.
“We see dogs that have been beaten, chained, denied food and water,” she told WBBJ.
“Hopefully it will bring these people into the public eye. It will bring more awareness to people that this type of thing does exist and, in fact, is pretty rampant.”
Photo credit: my_southborough