Suffolk County Legislative Majority Leader Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) today announced a series of initiatives that would put Suffolk at the national vanguard of protecting animal rights. Standing with grateful pet owners, animal rights advocates and other supporters—both two-legged and four-legged—including Justin, an abused dog rescued by Suffolk County SPCA peace officers, Cooper explained his bills would:

1)      Create a public Animal Abuser Registry listing the names of those convicted of inhumane treatment and torture of animals.

2)      Prevent those convicted of animal abuse from adopting or purchasing animals.

3)      Prohibit pet stores and animal shelters from selling pets or allowing them to be adopted by individuals on the Animal Abuser Registry.

If adopted, Cooper’s proposed laws would make Suffolk County the first municipality in the nation to have an Animal Abuser Registry on the books and to offer such far-reaching protections for pets and other animals.

Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper (center) is joined by peace officers from the Suffolk County SPCA, animal rights advocates and both two-legged and four-legged supporters as he announces his plan to create an Animal Abuser Registry, similar to the kind already in place for sex offenders. If adopted, Cooper’s proposed law would make Suffolk County the first municipality in the nation to have an Animal Abuser Registry.

Cooper’s first bill would create a publicly accessible and searchable database of those convicted of animal abuse crimes as defined by the New York State Penal Code. Convicted abusers would have to register their names, aliases, addresses and submit their photograph for inclusion in the database.

They would be required to update their personal information annually or any time they change their address. Appearance in the registry would be mandated for five years following an abuser’s incarceration or judgment. Those failing to register during that period would be subject to a $1,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail.

In order not to penalize taxpayers, Cooper’s bill would require abusers to foot the bill for the upkeep of the registry by paying a $50 annual fee. And Cooper’s bill won’t even tax already scarce police resources. That’s because Cooper has worked out an agreement that would give the Suffolk County SPCA responsibility for maintaining the database using their peace officers and retired law enforcement personnel, who already enforce the New York State Agriculture and Market Laws with regard to the prevention of mistreatment and cruelty to animals.

“I want to thank Legislator Cooper for authoring and championing this much-needed legislation to combat animal cruelty and abuse and to stop repeat offenders,” said Suffolk County SPCA Chief of Department Roy Gross. “The Suffolk County SPCA is working diligently with Legislator Cooper to help enact this law and we hope it will be a model for other municipalities to follow in the future.”

Cooper will follow up the creation of the Animal Abuser Registry with a companion bill prohibiting convicted animal abusers from adopting or purchasing pets during the period they are required to register their offender status. This bill would also require pet stores and animal shelters to check the identity of those seeking to purchase or adopt pets against the registry. If a person seeking an animal is in the database, the shelters and stores would face a fine if they knowingly allowed the convicted abuser to leave with the pet.

Animal rights advocates are expressing confidence that Cooper’s initiatives will affect positive change.  “Little Shelter would like to thank Legislator Cooper for seeking to get these laws passed,” said Maryann Chernovsky, president of the Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center in Huntington. “We know they will go a long way to stopping the abuse of innocent animals.”

But Cooper’s initiatives have to potential to go beyond protecting just pets. For more than a quarter of a century, studies have shown a strong corollary between animal abuse and human violence. The steps taken should this bill pass will also serve as a warning for potential human violence as well.

A survey of pet-owning families where child abuse and neglect occurred found that animals were also abused in 88 percent of homes where child physical abuse was present (DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983). A 1998 study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their companion animals (Ascione, 1998).

The first of Cooper’s bills has been assigned to the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. It will be the subject of a public hearing at the Legislature’s next General Meeting on Thursday, September 16, at 2:30 pm at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge. Cooper encourages all pet owners and animal lovers to come out and express their support for these proposals.