SF debates setting up database of animal abusers

SAN FRANCISCO

Sandra Bernal works at San Francisco's animal shelter. She says 7-year-old Louie suffers from seizures, yet his previous owner admitted never taking him to the vet. There are also other clear signs of neglect.

"He's obviously un-socialized. He's a scared little guy," said Bernal.

Sandra is now spearheading an effort to put all the names of people who abuse and neglect animals in a central database. But unlike the Megan's law sex offender registry, it wouldn't be accessible to everyone, only to shelters, rescue groups and possibly breeders.

"People have shown a pattern that they do it one time, then two or three years later they come back with another animal in the same condition, even worse sometimes. So we're trying to prevent that," said Bernal.

Thursday night, Bernal pitched the idea to San Francisco's Commission of Animal Control and welfare. The proposal was well-received, but some questions remained unanswered such as who would pay for the database. And would the registry include anyone who's been investigated for abuse or neglect, or would it only include those who've been convicted?

"Conviction rate is extremely low and I'm not sure if we'll do much good if we only have convicted individuals," said commissioner Susanna Ruso.

When the details are ironed out, the commission will consider whether to recommend the registry idea to the Board of Supervisors.

Lisa Franzetta is with the Animal Legal Defense Fund says a similar proposal was recently approved in Suffolk County, New York -- the first of its kind in the country.

"It's very typical with legislation that once one jurisdiction is the groundbreaker, as we have with Suffolk County, New York, it tends to be a domino effect," said Franzetta.

California legislators considered an abuser registry bill last year, but it never went anywhere. Sixteen other states, however, are considering similar legislation.

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