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The Growing Trend of Animal-Abuser Registries

Animal Law

Animal cruelty is a serious problem in the United States, resulting in the abuse of thousands of animals each year.1 All 50 states now have felony provisions for the gravest crimes against animals, but many of these offenses are still considered misdemeanors.2 Unlike violent crimes against people, cases of animal abuse have not always been compiled by state or federal agencies, making it difficult to calculate just how common they are.3 Animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses, and livestock.4 However, a more accurate account of animal abuse cases may be forthcoming. On January 1, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began tracking crimes against animals via the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).5 Animal cruelty crimes are now listed in their database in the same grouping as arson, rape, and murder.6

Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty.7 As a result, intentional animal cruelty has become a great concern in recent years, as it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates an individual may be predisposed to committing acts of violence, even toward humans.8 A strong correlation has been established linking individuals who abuse animals with incidents of domestic violence toward humans.9 Data on domestic violence and child abuse cases reveal that a staggering number of animals are targeted by those who abuse their children or spouses.10 People who have abused animals in the past are likely to do so in the future, and studies show there is a near 100 percent recidivism rate for certain types of animal abuse, such as animal hoarding.11

Since animal abuse is often an early sign of potential human abuse, a growing number of states and counties in the U.S. are giving serious consideration to increasing their monitoring of animal abusers. The idea of keeping track of them by way of registries is gaining popularity across the nation.12 Prior to the animal abuser registry, there was no existing mechanism to prevent someone convicted of animal abuse from walking into a shelter or going on Craigslist and obtaining a new animal.13 The registry is viewed by many as a way to help protect not only the animals in a community, but also the people; help police and the public identify potential criminal behavior and convicted animal abusers; assist shelters and animal organizations with screening out convicted abusers who may be trying to adopt again; and allow pet stores, other animal vendors, and employers an opportunity to check that prospective owners and employees are not on the registry. Generally modeled after registries kept for sexual offenders, animal abuser registries publicly reveal names, dates of birth, offenses, conviction dates, registration expiration dates of known animal abusers, and more. These registries are, essentially, a valuable asset. They have become quite a useful tool for keeping our beloved companion animals out of harm’s way.

Suffolk County, New York, and Tennessee — The Trailblazers
Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, created what is believed to be the nation’s first animal abuse registry in October 2010.14 The registry requires people convicted of cruelty to animals to register or face jail time and fines. The publicly accessible online list was prompted by a rise in animal abuse cases in the area, including that of a woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying them in her back yard.15 The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals administers the database. Convicted abusers are required to pay a $50 registration fee, and must remain on the registry for five years following their release from incarceration or the date judgment was rendered, whichever is later. Registered persons who are convicted of subsequent animal abuse crimes remain on the registry for 10 years following their most recent conviction. Those failing to register face up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.16 Within one year following the enactment of the Suffolk County animal-abuser registry, more than a dozen regions in the state of New York, including Albany, Rockland, and Westchester counties and New York City, began enacting animal abuser registries.17 New York City’s City Council enacted an animal-abuser registry law in February 2014, making New York City the first city in New York to join in on the effort. The law took effect on October 2, 2014.18

In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to adopt an animal-abuser registry and remains the only state to have a statewide database. The registry took effect in January 2016.19 State Representative Darren Jernigan introduced legislation for the registry in 2013, at the suggestion of his neighbor, after a Tennessee resident was convicted of beating a puppy to death with a tire iron.20 The registry is being monitored by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI), is located on the TBI website, and is accessible to anyone. Tennessee’s registry includes the names, photos, birth dates, and home addresses of people who have been convicted of animal abuse. According to the state’s registry law, “animal” is defined as a companion animal, like a cat or dog, but does not apply to livestock or wildlife. First-time offenders spend two years on the registry, and an additional five years will be added to their expiration date for every subsequent offense. Convicted abusers are required to pay a $50 registration fine and all who are 18 or older must supply a recent photo and any aliases they go by for the registry. Should an abuser decide not to register themselves as required, they could face up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.21 The registry has become a voice for dogs like Smokey, an eight-year-old German shepherd who escaped from his home during a storm and ended up in the hands of three men who stabbed and tortured him.22 All three men are on the registry until December 16, 2018.23 Currently, there are eight men and one woman on the statewide list.24

Jurisdictions That Followed Suit
A Cook County, Illinois, animal-abuser registry ordinance was approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners on May 10, 2016,25 amid strong opposition from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.26 Becoming effective on January 1, 2017, and covering all Cook County municipalities, including the City of Chicago, the ordinance prohibits convicted animal abusers from buying or adopting a companion animal for 15 years after their conviction, and for life for those with more than one previous offense. All convicted persons must register their name, address, and headshot, and failure to do so would result in a fine up to $2,000. In addition, convicted animal abusers are barred from owning animals, unless they are disabled and need a service animal. Violation of this condition would put the offender in a position of receiving a fine of up to $5,000. The ordinance also prohibits other people from purchasing or adopting an animal on behalf of a person on the registry, or from purchasing or adopting an animal if that person shares the same address with someone who is registered. Pet shops, shelters, or rescues are required to check the registry prior to selling or adopting out an animal to any individual. These vendors will face fines for providing a pet to someone on the registry: up to $1,000 for the first offense, up to $2,000 for a second, and up to $5,000 for a third.27

Four months after Cook County approved its ordinance, on September 8, 2016, Hillsborough County became the first county in Florida to establish an animal-abuser registry,28 requiring that any individual residing in Hillsborough County, who has been convicted of an animal-abuse offense on or after November 1, 2016, must self-register within 10 business days after their release from incarceration or from the date of the conviction judgment. The registry contains the names, residences, photographs, and other related information of those living in the county who are convicted of an animal offense on or after November 1, 2016. Under the ordinance, an “animal abuser” is defined as a person convicted of cruelty to animals under F.S. §828.12; fighting or baiting animals under F.S. §828.122; killing a dog or cat with the intent to sell or give away its pelt under F.S. §828.123; killing or aggravated abuse of horses or cattle under F.S. §828.125; sexual activities involving animals under F.S. §828.126; or confinement of animals without sufficient food, water, or exercise under F.S. §828.13. Registrants must remain on the registry for a period of three years for a first conviction of a misdemeanor abuse offense; for a period of five years for a first conviction of a felony abuse offense; or for a period of 10 years for a second or subsequent conviction of either a misdemeanor or felony abuse offense. In addition, registrants are not allowed to own, possess, and/or reside in the same household or on the same property as an animal while on the registry; prohibited from working with a companion animal, with or without compensation; and strictly prohibited from adopting, purchasing, or otherwise obtaining certain animals from any animal shelter, pet seller, or other person or entity involved in the exchange of animals by adoption, sale, or other means. Hillsborough County residents and vendors are required to check the registry for any transaction involving an animal; are banned from selling, adopting, transferring, or exchanging any animal to a person on the registry; and when buying from a commercial operation, a pet buyer must sign an affidavit affirming they do not meet the criteria to be on the registry. The ordinance went into effect on November 1, 2016.29 Currently, there are five men and one woman on the registry.30

On the heels of Hillsborough County, in October 2016, Marion County commissioners approved an animal-abuser registry ordinance named “Molly’s Law,” after an American Boxer mix was severely abused in 2014.31 An examination of the animal revealed that Molly had been brutally beaten with a bat, suffered a fractured skull, and had been stabbed with a knife through the top of her head three times.32 The ordinance, similar to the animal-abuser registry ordinance in Hillsborough County, took effect on January 1, 2017.33

The Florida Legislature Takes Two Bites of the Apple
During the 2012 Florida Legislative Session, Senator Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, introduced Senate Bill 618. “Dexter’s Law,” as the act was called, intended to establish the first statewide animal-abuser registry in the nation.34 The bill created an animal-abuser registry within the Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), containing the name and other information of each animal abuser living in this state who had been convicted of an animal-abuse offense. The clerk of court in the judicial circuit in which a person’s conviction for an animal-abuse offense occurred was required to forward to FDLE a copy of the judgment document for each conviction, the abuser’s home address, and other information. The registry was to include the abuser’s name and any aliases by which he or she is known; date of birth; permanent residential address; email address; all animal-abuse offense convictions, by conviction date; and a photograph of the abuser’s head and shoulders. Each registrant was required to update his or her registration information each time he or she moved from one residential address to another or, if his or her residential address did not change, annually from the date of his or her first registration and do so each year that the person resided in this state. An annual fee of $50 was also required of the registrant. These funds were to be used to help pay the administrative costs of maintaining the registry. It would have been a first-degree misdemeanor to fail to register, annually update the registry information, or pay the annual administrative fee. The bill died in the Senate Agriculture Committee on March 9, 2012.35

Another attempt was made to create a statewide registry in Florida during the 2017 Legislative Session. Three House representatives proposed House Bill 871: Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill; Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs; and David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. Senate Bill 1628 was filed by Senator Dana Young, R-Tampa. Both bills created an online registry that would list the names, addresses, and photos of those convicted of felony animal cruelty, animal fighting, or sexual activities involving animals. Names were to remain on the registry for two years, or five years if the offender was subsequently convicted of animal abuse. The Florida Department of State was tasked with sending letters to urge breeders’ associations not to provide animals to anyone on the list, and all pet stores, breeders, and shelters were required to check the registry before selling or adopting animals, or face penalties. Unlike S.B. 618, the bill authorized a sentencing court to prohibit an offender convicted of animal cruelty or sexual activities involving animals from owning or possessing an animal as a condition of the offender’s probation.36 Some argued that the Florida animal-abuser registry would make an overall difference in encouraging courts and prosecutors to take animal cruelty more seriously, while also protecting animals from being sold to, or adopted by, abusers. Others claimed that the registries — which rarely include many names, since few people are convicted of these crimes — are not effective and are costly to maintain.37 H.B. 871 died in the Justice Appropriation Subcommittee,38 and S.B. 1628 died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.39

How Local Governments Can Get a Registry Off the Ground
Having a statewide registry would be ideal, but until that happens, local governments may want to consider the following helpful approaches to better protecting the animals in their communities and keeping them away from convicted animal abusers.

Enacting an Animal Abuser Registry Ordinance, Similar to Those Already in Effect —Drafting an animal-abuser registry is no easy task. The specifics of any ordinance depend on the desires of the decisionmakers and the community being served by the new legislation. The following issues should be considered when drafting an animal-abuser registry: What animals need protecting? What abuse offenses should be included to activate registration? What registration deadlines and timeframes should be imposed for registrants and for what level of offenses? What information should be registered with the local government? What, if any, additional registration requirements are needed? What penalties should be imposed for noncompliance? Should there be requirements or certain prohibitions for the public, animal organizations, or private vendors with respect to animal abusers, and, if so, what should they be? What penalties, if any, should be imposed for noncompliance? And what exemptions, if any, will be needed?40 Finally, coordination between the county and other agencies, such as law enforcement, the clerk’s office, and/or the offices of the public defender and state attorney, may be vital in establishing a seamless and effective process. They may be able to assist with implementation, administration, and enforcement of a registration process, help with gathering information, and provide much needed technological support.

Enacting an Ordinance That Mandates the Use of the Clerk’s Records Prior to Any Animal Transaction —As a derivative of a fully developed registry, this approach still allows people who sell or put animals up for adoption the ability to verify whether the individual receiving the animal has a record of abuse. Although no formal registration process needs to be implemented, the proposed ordinance can require that people check the clerk’s information prior to an animal transaction and show proof, upon request by law enforcement or a government official, that the site was checked, and can prohibit people from knowingly transferring an animal to an abuser.41 As an alternative to establishing an animal-abuser registry, Pasco County enacted such an ordinance in 2017.42

Maintain a Civil Enjoined List —Historically, injunctions prohibiting persons found to have violated civil or criminal animal abuse laws from possessing or working with certain animals have been granted on an ad hoc basis. Under F.S. §828.073, the court may enjoin an owner from further possession or custody of animals for a specific period of time. Few counties in Florida maintain a list of the names and last known addresses of persons enjoined from owning animals by a judge.43 This list can be used for varied reasons, but it essentially keeps track of the status of local animal services’ cases with enjoinment orders. This can be quite advantageous for local government enforcement purposes. Coordination with the clerk’s office and/or the offices of the public defender and state attorney would be ideal and central to having an all-inclusive database, because such a list would include criminal cases and any other case involving an enjoinment order.

It is paramount to the safety and well-being of a community to deal seriously with crimes against animals. The link between violence against animals and violence against human beings is well documented. Individuals who mistreat, abuse, or kill domestic animals or wildlife often extend that behavior to humans in the form of domestic violence, child abuse, and in certain cases, murder. In addition to preventing crimes against humans, penalizing animal abusers, and restricting their contact with animals to protect potential animal victims, requiring abusers to register as an additional safeguard is a growing trend across the country. Registries should function in much the same way sex-offender registries function: by warning members of the community, particularly pet retailers, animal adoption organizations, and employers looking to hire people to work with and care for animals, that a prospective owner or employee is a dangerous offender.44

Ultimately, these registries have the potential to do more than just protect animals. They can serve to increase public safety, provide education and awareness, and offer peace of mind for society as a whole. In addition, registries can afford the opportunity to gather more comprehensive statistical data about animal abuse, which would allow researchers and/or law enforcement to identify more patterns of animal cruelty. This could prevent gruesome stories of repeated animal abuse and prevent individuals from possibly graduating to human targets, such as the case with Jeffrey Dahmer.45

1, America’s Animal Abuse Problem,

2 Chris Berry, All 50 States Now Have Felony Animal Cruelty Provisions!, Animal Legal Defense Fund (Mar. 2014), available at On March 14, 2014, South Dakota became the final state to enact a felony provision for animal cruelty. The new law represents the emergence of a nationwide consensus that egregious animal abuse should be treated as a serious crime. Although there is much more work left to be done, this event marks a significant milestone in an undeniable trend favoring humane treatment of animals. See Karin Brulliard, Animal Abusers Are Being Registered Like Sex Offenders in these Jurisdictions, The Washington Post, September 13, 2016, available at

3 The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Cruelty Facts and Stats,

4 Id. In the 2011 digest of, 1,423 U.S. cruelty cases listed and based on the information species of the victim: 70.1 percent involved dogs; 20.9 percent involved cats; and 24.1 percent involved other animals.

5 Last Chance for Animals, FBI Tracks Animal Cruelty, This is the first federal effort to track animal crimes. The NIBRS database will now include all animal cruelty cases investigated by participating law enforcement, which will fall under four categories: gross neglect, torture, organized abuse (such as dogfighting and cockfighting), and sexual abuse (bestiality). But, not all law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. contribute crime data to NIBRS. Of the nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country — including city police, university/college police, county police and sheriffs, state police, tribal police, and even some federal agencies — only about 30 percent contribute crime data to NIBRS. See Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tracking Animal Cruelty, FBI Collecting Data on Crimes Against Animals (Feb. 1, 2016), available at Karin Brulliard, Animal Abusers are Being Registered Like Sex Offenders in these Jurisdictions, The Washington Post, September 13, 2016.

6 Id.

7 The National Humane Education Society, Animal Abuse Registries (2013),

8 Id. American Humane, Understanding the Link Between Animal Abuse and Family Violence (Aug. 2016),

9 Stefanie Marsh, The Link Between Animal Abuse and Murder, The Atlantic (Aug. 31, 2017), available at See Cynthia Hodges, The Link: Cruelty to Animals and Violence Towards People, Michigan State University College of Law, Animal Law Legal Center (2008), available at

10 The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Cruelty Facts and Stats, See American Humane, Understanding the Link Between Animal Abuse and Family Violence (Aug. 25, 2017), See, America’s Animal Abuse Problem, Noting in 1985, Drs. Alan Felthous and Steven Kellert studied 152 men, 102 of them serving time in federal penitentiaries. Kellert and Felthous identified nine major motivations for childhood animal abuse: to control the animal; to retaliate against the animal; to satisfy a prejudice against a specific species or breed; to express aggression through an animal; to enhance one’s own aggressiveness; to shock people for amusement; to retaliate against another person; displacement of hostility from a person to an animal; and nonspecific sadism.

11 PETA, Animal Hoarders: The Illness and the Crime,

12 National Anti-Vivisection Society, State Animal Abuser Registries Proposed in 2017 (2017),

13 Lydia O’Connor, Animal Abuse Registry Created to Track Convicted Offenders, HuffPost (2013), available at

14 Barry Leibowitz, Animal Abuse Registry: First-in-Nation Law in NY County Sick of Cruelty, CBS News (Oct. 2010), available at

15 Frank Eltman, NY County Creating List of Animal Abusers, San Diego Union Tribune, Oct. 14, 2010, available at

16 Suffolk County, NY Code, Ch. 299, art. IV, Animal Abuse Offenders Registry, available at

17 Janet Kaminskileduc, Office of Legislative Research, Animal Abuser Registry Laws, available at

18 Id.

19 National Anti-Vivisection Society, State Animal Abuser Registries Proposed in 2017 (Aug. 2017),

20 Laura Moss, Tennessee Launches Nation’s First Statewide Animal Abuse Registry, Mother Nature Network (Jan 5, 2016), available at

21 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry,

22 Leslie Ackerson, Tennessee’s Animal Abuse Registry One Year Later, WBIR (Feb. 2017), available at

23 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry,

24 Id.

25 Cook County Government Board of Commissioners, Law Enforcement Committee Meeting (May 2016),

26 Steve Dale Pet World, Animal Abuser Registry Passes in Cook County (May 11, 2016),

27 Cook County Sheriff, Animal Abuser Registry,

28 Kate Bradshaw, The Worst Offenders: Hillsborough May Become the First County in Florida to Adopt an Animal Abuser Registry, Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay, Feb. 11, 2016, available at

29 Hillsborough County, Animal Abuser Registry,

30 Id.

31 Nicki Gorny, Marion to Introduce Animal Abuser Registry Through ‘Molly’s Law,’ Ocala Star Banner, Oct. 4, 2016, available at

32 EndPlay, “Molly’s Law” Keeps Animal Abusers from Owning Pets in Marion County, WFTV (Dec. 27, 2016), available at

33 Marion County Code of Ordinances Ch. 4, §4-15: Establishing an Animal Abuser Registry (2017), available at

34 Dexter was a kitten that was severely beaten with a metal baseball bat by a woman and her two small children. He had to be euthanized. See Dogtime, Animal Abuser Registry Bill on the Table in Florida (2015),

Had S.B. 618 passed in 2012, Florida would have been the first state in the nation to have a statewide animal-abuser registry. Tennessee’s registry became effective three years later in 2015.

35 S.B. 618, 2012 Leg. Sess. (Fla. 2012), available at

36 H.B. 871, 2017 Leg. Sess. (Fla. 2017), available at

37 Florida Bar Animal Law Section, Registry of Animal Abusers to be Considered by Florida Legislature (Mar. 24, 2016),

38 H.B. 871, 2017 Leg. Sess. (Fla. 2017), available at

39 S.B. 1628, 2017 Leg. Sess. (2017), available at

40 Animal Law Resource Center, Animal Abuser Registry Act,

41 Kathy Steele, Pasco Drops Idea of Animal Abuse Registry, The Laker/Lutz News, Dec. 7, 2016, available at

42 Pasco County Ordinance No. 17-01 (2017), available at

43 Hillsborough and Marion counties maintain publicly accessible civil enjoinment lists. Hillsborough County’s enjoinment list can be found at; Marion County, Persons Enjoined from Possessing Animals Inquiry,

44 See note 40.

45 Danielle K. Campbell, Animal Abusers Beware: Registry Laws in the Works to Curb Your Abuse, 48 Val. U. L. Rev. 271 (2013), available at

Chip Fletcher became the Hillsborough County attorney in 2012. Prior to joining Hillsborough County, he was with GrayRobinson, P.A., where he focused his practice on representing private and public clients before federal, state, and local government agencies. Fletcher is board certified in state and federal government and administrative practice, and served on the Board Certification Committee for this specialty area. He earned his J.D. from the Florida State University College of Law.

DeBora Cromartie-Mincey joined the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office in 2001. She has served on the Executive Council of the City, County, and Local Government Law Section of The Florida Bar, and became board certified in city, county, and local government law in 2009. Cromartie-Mincey earned her J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law in 1994 and her B.A. in political science from Alabama State University.

This column is submitted on behalf of the Animal Law Section, Gregg R. Morton, chair, and Ralph DeMeo, editor.

Animal Law