Suffolk first in U.S. to create animal abuse registry

A dog was rescued from a West Hills A dog was rescued from a West Hills home at 168 Chichester Road. Other abused animals rescued from the home include 113 dogs, an emaciated pony, a cat, and three goats, Huntington Town officials said. (Sept. 1, 2010) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Suffolk lawmakers approved a measure Tuesday making the county the first in the nation to create an animal abuse registry - a list that would identify those convicted of mistreating animals.

"There are sick individuals out there who are preying on innocent animals," said Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), sponsor of the bill. County Executive Steve Levy said he will sign the law, aides said.

Passage came shortly after a companion measure was aired at a public hearing Tuesday that would ban shelters and pet stores from selling or adopting to those people listed on the registry.

Under the measure passed Tuesday, a Suffolk resident older than 18 who is convicted of animal abuse would be required to file their name, address and photo with the registry and stay on the list for five years. It will be administered without cost to the county by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It will be publicly available.

Those convicted of animal abuse crimes would also stay on the list for an additional five years for any subsequent conviction. The registry would only cover those convicted of abuse crimes. Those on the list would also have to pay a $50 annual fee to help fund the cost of maintaining the registry.

Stephan Otto, legal affairs director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund based in Oregon, said Suffolk is the first municipality nationwide to adopt an animal abuse registry and the county's move will help spur efforts elsewhere. Similar bills have been defeated in California and Tennessee, but similar legislation is pending in Albany.

"In story after heartbreaking story, abusers repeat their violent crimes against helpless animals, and often go on to victimize people as well," said Otto. "Suffolk County residents. . . . can breathe a little easier today, as they celebrate this historic vote for animals."

Roy Gross, SPCA's chief of department, said there could be several dozen offenders on the registry at any one time, noting that in 2009, 10 individuals were brought up on abuse charges. So far this year, there have been 17. As of Sept. 10, he said there were charges involving the abuse of 362 animals this year and his agency has seized 500 animals.

Among those who appeared at the county legislature before the vote was a rescued dog named Justin, near death, undernourished and weighing only 19 pounds when SPCA officials saved him in May.

"We call him Justin because we found him 'Just in time,' " said Regina Benfonte, a SPCA agent who has adopted the pup, who now weighs a healthy 55 pounds.

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