State considers starting animal abusers' registry

February 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
People who abuse animals could soon be treated the same way as sex offenders in California. State lawmakers are considering a bill to create an online registry for people convicted of animal cruelty, similar to the sex offender database.

The people pushing for this law say those who abuse animals are often abusive to human beings as well, which is why an online registry for animal abusers makes perfect sense.

"And you can see he's really shy, so we suspect that he's probably been abused in his past," says Angie Bonnert.

Bonnert from the Humane Society of Sonoma County says "Panda" shows classic symptoms of abuse. The 1-year-old border collie is going through a training program, but he is still showing a lot of fear.

"He's very afraid of human hands. He gets very anxious around people, so you know that happens sometimes when people abuse the animals," says Bonnert.

These stories are heartbreaking to animal rights advocates. So much so, that Joyce Tischler of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati is pushing for a law that would place convicted animal abusers on an online registry -- the Megan's Law equivalent of what is required for sex offenders.

"Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit crimes against human beings and four times more likely to commit property crimes. Wouldn't you want that person not to be living next to you or wouldn't you want to know if that person were living next to you?" says Tischler.

The registry would include people like Michael Vick -- animal abusers convicted of felonies. Such crimes include animal fighting, torture and mutilation, bestiality and repeated hoarding.

Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez introduced the bill in Sacramento on Monday.

"The payment of this registry will be through the creation of, if you will, a pet fee, pet food fee. We are debating whether that should be three cents or two cents," says Florez.

For the average dog owner, that would cost an extra $10 a year -- an amount that will likely bring about some opposition, especially from Republicans who oppose new taxes, but Tischler is holding out hope.

"That's $10, that's one night at the movies," says Tischler.

Similar bills have been introduced in other states like Tennessee, Colorado and Rhode Island, but never passed. Florez says he is confident he has the votes to push this bill forward.