Those convicted of cruelty would have names, photos online for 10 years
By Holly Crocco
After two years of discussion, the Putnam County Legislature on Dec. 6 will consider joining a growing list of New York counties with online registries of convicted animal abusers.
Rockland (2011), Orange (2015), Sullivan (2016) and Ulster (2016) are among about a dozen New York counties that have created registries and post or plan to post the names, addresses and photos of residents convicted of animal cruelty. (Westchester approved a registry in 2012 but it has not been implemented.) New York City also has a registry, and this year Tennessee launched the first statewide site. The Putnam registry was proposed in 2014 by William Gouldman (R-Putnam Valley).
Dutchess County legislators considered an abuse registry last year but decided to wait for the state to create one. Kim McNamee, the senior humane law enforcement officer for the Dutchess County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said her agency feels that would be more efficient than each of New York’s 62 counties having its own.
During a Rules Committee meeting of the Putnam County Legislature held Nov. 14, Ken Ross, chief of the Putnam County SPCA, explained that whenever a county resident is convicted of animal cruelty, the court would send his or her photo and home address to the Putnam SPCA to be posted on the registry for 10 years. In addition, the offender would pay $50 each year to the SPCA. An offender convicted in another New York county who moves into Putnam would also have to register.
“There would be no cost to the county, and there would be no involvement of other agencies,” Ross said. “It’s a very simple thing.”
The registry would not include details of the crime but the statute would define animal cruelty as organizing fights, failure to feed, abandonment, “carrying an animal in a cruel manner,” poisoning, clipping or cutting the ears of dogs, stealing a pet, seizing dogs for research purposes, harming a service animal or sexual misconduct, among other crimes.
Anyone listed on the registry would be prohibited from owning or controlling any animal, including birds and fish, or face fines of $250 to $1,000 or up to 15 days in jail. “These people should not have animals, and the legislature has the ability to stop it,” Ross said. “A judge is not going to be able to order this; it has to come through a county law.”
Ross noted that the FBI, citing studies that suggest cruelty to animals is a precursor to violent crimes against humans, this year added animal cruelty to its national crime reporting system. The crime had previously been placed in the “All Other Offenses” category.
Under the proposed Putnam County law, any resident who sells or gives away an animal to someone whose name appears on the registry can be held liable for not doing due diligence by checking the database, which would be linked from the SPCA site at spcaputnam.org.
Joseph Castellano (R-Southeast) expressed some concern over that provision. “How does it affect the family in Putnam County who has a litter of kittens they need to get rid of?” Castellano said he wanted to make sure “innocent” residents who happen to give away an animal to the “wrong person” are not implicated.
“It takes two seconds to ask someone to be responsible for a life,” Ross replied. “It’s not a human life, but it’s a life. And if we also agree that what you do to an animal you will also do to a human being, the least we can do is hold people accountable.”
Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) said she is “all in favor” of a registry. “This is only going to facilitate and help you do your job even better because it will stop some of these horrible things that are going on,” she told Ross.
Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) also expressed her support. “On behalf of the innocent animals, this is imperative to push through,” she said.
Where to Report Animal Abuse or Neglect
Putnam County SPCA
Dutchess County SPCA
845-452-7722, ext. 404
The proposed law has gone through some revision. In June, Putnam County district attorney Robert Tendy offered the Rules Committee his assessment of a draft. While he said he supported the proposal, he said its definition of “animal” as “every living creature except a human being” was broad enough to suggest that even a guppy could not be given away or sold without checking the registry.
He suggested the legislature use as a model the Orange County law, which he said was shorter and more specific. Passed in June 2015, it requires offenders to remain on the registry for 15 years and pay $125 annually. The Rockland County law requires four years and $50.
Sullivan County, which passed its law in July, requires seven years and $125. Notably, it forbids offenders only from owning a pet, providing exemptions for “farm animals for farmers” and service animals for people with disabilities.
In Putnam, the three-member Rules Committee voted unanimously Nov. 14 to send the proposed law to the full legislature, which is expected to vote at its Dec. 6 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel.