25 July 2016

WELFARE - Is Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry First of Many?

In an effort to tackle the issue of animal abuse, the state of Tennessee launched the country’s first statewide animal abuse registry in January of 2016; animal advocates are hopeful other states will soon follow suit.

The registry publishes details that include the offender’s name, address and photograph for those convicted of animal abuse; first-time offenders will remain on the list for two years, second-time offenders for five. This is with respect to companion animals (not livestock) such as cats and dogs.

Those who make the list would be ineligible to adopt from shelters.

While registries exist in cities across the U.S., this is the first statewide registry. Similar bills are being considered in New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Those who oppose it argue that registries, much like sex offender registries, do not achieve lowered rates of offenders and that the act of shaming offenders by displaying their personal information may not act as a deterrent.

For proponents of registries, the main goal is to prevent convicted offenders from attaining, and hurting, more animals. 

For Calgary forensic veterinarian, Dr. Margaret Doyle, an animal abuse registry "would be great, but is a long way down the road" for Alberta, Canada.

Doyle said veterinarians in the province of Alberta currently have ‘an ethical, not legal, obligation to report suspected abuse to law enforcement’. She would like to see this made mandatory to aid in a better workflow among animal health professionals and law enforcement, and to see better inter provincial sharing of information; these are all steps that would have to precede a Canada-wide registry or even provincial ones.

In Calgary alone, the Animal Cruelty Investigations unit at the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) has an annual file load of 1300-1600 investigations, and unit peace officer Brad Nichols confirms that “while the numbers have not varied too much (over the last few years), the legitimacy and complexity of those investigations has increased substantially.”

The peace officers of this division are a big part of the public education piece in Calgary on animal abuse and neglect, but these officers also have the authority to seize animals, lay charges, as well as to draft and execute their own search warrants (an authority more peace officers or ground-level police do not have); this unit works very closely with the Calgary Police Services, with a strong work flow and sharing of intelligence and resources.

Nichols attributes this increase to a ‘more informed public’ and an increased awareness of public knowledge of the CHS division that has grown from two to five officers over the last 10 years. He would like to see some changes, including better definitions, to the Animal Protection Act, to help his team do their job better.

“Increasing the penalty sections in legislation would accomplish nothing. Courts are imposing average fines 5-10% of the maximum, so an increase would be of no consequence,” he explained.

“We are pretty lucky in Calgary as far as resources and I can proudly say that we have never closed a case without exhausting viable investigation techniques such as costly forensics.”

Nichols said they currently publish prohibited offenders, but an animal abuse registry would require the cooperation and pooling of resources among peace officers and police agencies.

Perhaps as technology continues to advance, better resource and information sharing among agencies and between provinces would become a less daunting task.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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