Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross, Sgt. Regina Benfante and Legislator Jon Cooper with Justin, a Doberman mix who was rescued from a Centereach home. Justin, who now weighs a healthy 55 pounds, was only 19 pounds when he was saved. He got his name because he was found “just in time.” Under a bill proposed by Mr. Cooper, residents convicted of animal abuse would be listed publicly.
A county lawmaker is looking to create a public registry of convicted animal abusers in a move that would make Suffolk County the first municipality in the nation to create such a list to shame abusers and prevent them from adopting animals.
The bill, introduced by county Legislator Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), first needs the support of a simple majority, or 10 votes in the 18-member Legislature, in order to become law. It could come to a vote as early as this fall.
If passed, the names, aliases, addresses and photographs of animal abusers would compiled in a searchable database, much like the state’s sex offender registry.
The convicted abusers would pay a $50 annual fee for upkeep of the registry, and those who fail to register would be charged $1,000 or face jail time. The bill would also require pet stores and animal shelters to check the registry before allowing anyone to purchase or adopt an animal, and would prohibit giving an animal to a convicted abuser.
Legislator Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham), who represents much of northeastern Brookhaven Town, said he would have to consider budgetary issues before committing to supporting the bill.
He said he must examine whether the county’s information technology department would be able to handle the workload demanded by maintaining the registry.
“To me, right now, it comes down to a question of finances,” Mr. Losquadro said. “The Suffolk County SPCA has been very active and we’ve worked extensively with them to try to prevent animal abuse, but right now we’re facing very serious budget problems.”
But Roy Gross, who heads the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said his nonprofit agency will offer to maintain the registry at no cost to the county or taxpayers.
“This is so necessary,” Mr. Gross said. “People like this in society — we should know who they are and where they are. Maybe the embarrassment of being on a registry like this will make them think twice before they commit an act of animal cruelty.”
Mr. Cooper noted that a high number of cases of animal abuse and torture have been reported in Suffolk County.
The SPCA investigates more than 2,000 animal abuse cases per year in Suffolk and has seen a 20 percent increase this year compared with last year, a trend Mr. Gross said is related to the economy. He said an increased number of foreclosed houses has led to more people abandoning their pets, leaving them behind in their former homes to die.
Similar bills were proposed in California and Tennessee but neither passed.
“I’m hoping Suffolk County will be the first successful effort and I’m hoping to set a precedent for New York State,” Mr. Cooper said, noting that studies have shown a link between animal abuse and human violence.
A 2005 study in the Journal of Community Health found that pet abuse was one of five factors that predicted other abusive behaviors. A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children aged 6 to 12 prone to animal cruelty were twice as likely to commit violent crimes against people.
“The fact that I have five pets and have always loved animals certainly played a role in my drafting this bill,” said Mr. Cooper, who, like other county legislators, has fought for child sex offender laws in the past.
“If it makes it easier for people responsible for finding good homes for animals to determine whether or not someone’s convicted of animal abuse, certainly it’s important,” said Gillian Pultz, executive director of the North Fork Animal Welfare League.
“As long as the list is made accessible to shelter personnel so it’s easy for us to check, I’m definitely in favor of it.”