August 2, 2017

BY ROBERT LIKINS, VP of Government Affairs for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council

For any animal lover, little is more heartbreaking than hearing of, or seeing, animal abuse. It is for good reason that abusing animals is a felony in all 50 states.

At the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), we believe more can be done to protect companion animals. One method that we have often opposed, however, is animal abuse registries that incorporate a point-of-sale verification requirement. This is because we care about both companion animals and employees who help to bring them into the lives of so many prospective pet owners.

Animal abuse registries are exactly what they sound like—a record of animal abusers so that those who care for and about pets know with whom they are dealing. The principle is sound, even though the impact is often less than proponents would hope. The nation’s largest registry, for example, is in Tennessee. It has just
seven people on it.

The reasons PIJAC has always opposed registries with point-of-sale verification are two-fold. First, many times these bills fail to hold the abuser accountable. Instead of passing laws that would make it illegal for convicted abusers to own animals, elected officials are voting on whether or not to consider law-abiding pet
store employees or rescue and shelter volunteers criminally responsible for providing a pet to someone legally permitted to own that animal in most states.

Registries should hold felons accountable, not people working to connect people and pets or volunteering to help animals in need. Just as concerning is that point-of-sale verification measures put the aforementioned employees and volunteers in the position of confronting convicted felons. This is absolutely inappropriate—organizations such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Domestic Violence Roundtable have identified a link between animal abuse and
human abuse.

In other words, untrained civilians would be forced to act as law enforcement. Employees and volunteers are brought on for their love and knowledge of companion animals, not their ability to confront someone with a demonstrated willingness to assault them in the checkout line.

PIJAC is not alone in holding this position. The Massachusetts Animal Cruelty Task Force spent over a year examining the feasibility of an animal abuse registry and ultimately recommended against creating one. Its report last year noted that “some members of the Task Force” were concerned “that requiring workers
to confront convicted violent felons could be inappropriate and potentially dangerous.” The report also noted that the cost of registries compared to their small sizes meant there are likely better uses of taxpayer dollars.

The Task Force also cited the Tennessee registry and later noted, “The Task Force finds that because of the high potential cost of establishing and maintaining
a registry and the low number of offenders listed on those registries currently in operation, that the funds required to create the registry could be better utilized in preventing abuse or aiding abused animals.” The Task Force recommended that the state’s Congressional delegation “advance legislation in Congress to establish a federal registry.” This was in part because the FBI is already focusing on animal abuse tracking. Furthermore, “the Department of Justice has the resources and
expertise to operate such a registry,” and a federal registry would prevent felons from moving to non-registry jurisdictions.

It is here that PIJAC and the Humane Society of the United States agree. Additionally, the FBI’s existing operations would not have to be reinvented, as is the case with state registries. This could save a great deal of time and money while tackling animal abuse more effectively.

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