Scarlet and Ramona were rescued from abusive situations.

Scarlet and Ramona were rescued from abusive situations.

Courtesy of PSCPA

A Philly politician wants to create a statewide animal abuse registry

A new Pennsylvania bill would make the names of animal abusers convicted of felonies and misdemeanors public information.

Cassie Owens, Reporter/Curator

Pa. Rep. Angel Cruz will bring forward a bill to create an animal abuse registry in Pennsylvania. Cruz, a democrat from the 180th district in Philadelphia, is expected to introduce the bill tomorrow.

The bill comes on the heels of Libre’s Law, the largest update to Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty regulations in a generation. The new law toughened state statutes significantly, most notably making severe animal cruelty a felony offense. Before Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law yesterday, Pennsylvania was considered more lax on extreme cases of animal abuse.

But Cruz’s bill, if passed, could make Pennsylvania the second state to have an animal abuse registry. Currently, Tennessee is the only state with such a registry, but states like New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Texas are considering them. Pa. Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, proposed similar legislation in 2013, but that bill stalled in committee. Cruz’s bill currently has bipartisan, but predominately Democratic, support.

How animal abuse registries work

The proposed legislation would target convicts of animal cruelty felonies, like killing or mutilation; and misdemeanors, like injury through beating; requiring them to register with their local county sheriff.  While the Commonwealth would withhold sensitive information like Social Security numbers, their names would be publicly accessible.

“If an offender goes in to buy a pet, they’ll see him in the registry,” Cruz said. Cruz and his wife own two Cocker Spaniels, Pixie and Cody, who he calls his “two babies.” He said he’s already getting calls from animal rights proponents.“It gives us animal lovers a chance to stop abuse,” he said.

The FBI tracks animal cruelty through a national database, but it doesn’t cover all offenses committed. In Pennsylvania, humane societies can investigate animal welfare cases. Nicole Wilson, the Pennsylvania SPCA’s director of humane law enforcement, said a state registry “would give us better idea of us having criminal prosecutions in the Commonwealth, because right now there is no single source for that, and it’ll give people an idea of how big a problem it is.”

The proposed registry wouldn’t track summary offenses, like animal neglect that doesn’t lead to injury.

“The registry can be viewed as additional penalty,” said Rachel Romanofsky, the research analyst who drafted Cruz’s bill. An initial case of serious animal abuse would place someone on the registry for seven years. A second conviction would mandate 15 years, and a third would keep a criminal on the list for life.  “With the length of time that they would be on the registry, the penalty [for summary violations] wouldn’t match the offense.”

Philadelphia is of one of 23 counties where the PSPCA takes up animal safety cases in place of local law enforcement. In 2016, the PSCPA investigated 4,022 complaints. Out of those cases, 442 animals were taken away.

Animal abuse can be an indicator of further violence

Cruz believes that animal abuse often indicates a person is likely capable of other violent crime.

“I think those are early detections, when they’re violent and mistreat and animals,” he said. The goal of the registry would be “having a background when they show this kind of behavior.” He hopes the registry would stand parallel to child abuse and sexual abuse registries.

There is a large body of research on the connection between animal cruelty and abusing people. According to a 2014 National District Attorneys Association report, the incidence of animal abuse is higher in homes where spouses and children are abused. Wilson said the PSPCA doesn’t have specific data on how many animal abusers go on to commit acts of violence on humans, but they see this overlap in the field.

“It’s definitely a huge issue when it comes to violence in the home,” she said. Wilson explained that it’s common to discover that offenders had tortured or beaten pets they had given to their partners as presents “in the romance phase between cycles of violence.”

“We often see cases where we’re going in for animal abuse issues while child services is dealing with child neglect issues,” she continued. “You also see it in elder abuse cases.”

What’s next for Pennsylvania’s animal abuse regulations

Wilson said Libre’s Law and this proposed legislation is encouraging, but noted that the enhanced attention for animal welfare hasn’t yet amounted to funding for humane society enforcement.

“We who take up that gauntlet do so solely through the donations of private individuals,” she said. “It’s definitely limiting. We’ve taken a lot of hits. A lot of shelters [have.]”

Romanofsky acknowledges that the legislation does not include funding, but said it’s still early in the process: “That’s not to say that as it goes through the legislative process that the question of funding might not come up,” she said. “We can continue to go further, and as we hear from stakeholders, we can amend the legislation as necessary.”

Cruz will introduce the bill Friday. The House convenes at 11 am.