In a move that puts Tennessee ahead of the rest, it has become the first state to release an animal abuse registry. Everyone, including shelters and rescues, have access to a complete list of individuals convicted of animal abuse, including photos as well as the offenders’ birth dates and addresses.
State Senator Jeff Yarbro told The Huffington Post back in November:
We proposed this law not just to take a stand against animal cruelty, but to take concrete action to prevent abuse and deter those who repeatedly engage in the torture and killing of animals.
Tennessee State Representative Darren Jernigen said the idea’s introduction nearly three years ago occurred after his neighbor asked him to take action. The David Matson case had just come to light, wherein Matson acquired a “free to good home” puppy off of Craigslist and beat it to death with a tire iron. He admitted to killing another five or six and received no jail time.
If you have ever adopted an animal from a shelter, you likely were asked to complete a questionnaire, provide references, or maintain a certain fence height in your yard in order to be eligible. While not everyone can enforce the use of privacy fences, even survey results are not inherently honest.
This registry will allow shelter and rescue staff to deny an individual the ability to adopt a dog or cat if they have been convicted. A first offense gets someone two years on the list; another ups it to five.
Director of Metro Animal Care & Control Lauren Bluestone told WKRN:
This is very, very new. There are a lot of cities that have these types of lists, certainly nothing on a state-wide level. We are really excited that animals will be protected more. […] I think it’s a great start.
Right now the registry is empty—it only includes people convicted after January 1. It also does not protect livestock, as the term “animal” for this purpose covers only companion animals such as dogs or cats.
Already, some states are considering passage of similar bills, though not everyone has the same positive outlook.
The Times Herald, for instance, insists that such a law would be utterly pointless. “As with sex-offender registries,” the article reads, “there is zero evidence an animal-abuser registry would do anything to keep animals safe. All it would do is punish an offender in a way that is unreasonable, unfair and potentially unsafe.”
The author continues by pointing out that a registry would protect only shelter animals and not those sold at pet stores or acquired elsewhere, but it’s still a start.
A blog post by Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, looks at both sides. He urges supporters of these types of bills to consider that perhaps mental health counseling would be more beneficial. He writes:
When convicted of cruelty [abusers] should be punished. But experience has made clear that such individuals would pose a lesser threat to animals in the future if they received comprehensive mental health counseling. Shaming them with a public Internet profile is unlikely to affect their future behavior—except perhaps to isolate them further from society and promote increased distrust of authority figures trying to help them. And would people other than those absolutely committed to our cause really check such a website anyway?
Pacelle encourages the idea of establishing a “balance between punishment and rehabilitation,” though commenters on the post still wonder why enactment of a registry is not wholly accepted by the country’s largest animal protection organization.
Tennessee has succeeded in something many states before it have attempted and failed, and many who are still fighting to make the list a reality. None of us wants to see a shelter animal go to a good home only to discover they’ve been exposed to something terrible.
Thousands retain a positive attitude toward the registry’s impact, and we can only hope more animals’ lives are spared as a result.