There’s no shortage of differing views on a proposed law to create a registry of animal abusers banned from owning pets in Erie County.
Some pet stores find it unworkable. Farmers worry about its impact on horse owners, and animal rights activists say the latest version of the law doesn’t do enough to protect all animals.
Now, the SPCA Serving Erie County, which was envisioned by lawmakers as a key agency in developing the registry, has expressed concerns about the proposal, calling it “costly to develop and implement” and “duplicitous” to current safeguards aimed at stopping animal cruelty.
“It really has to work for it to be a good idea,” said Barbara S. Carr, executive director of the SPCA Serving Erie County. “And I just don’t think it’s the most practical way to protect animals.”
Carr said she is “delighted” the County Legislature has taken up the cause of combatting animal cruelty, but she sees several flaws in the latest proposal. Among her concerns is that “current practices provide much stronger protection and better outcomes for animals.”
The idea behind the proposed county law is to create a system for banning people convicted under state animal-cruelty laws from owning cats, dogs or horses for five years. Under the proposal, submitted by County Legislator Terrence D. McCracken, a countywide online registry would be created with names, addresses and photographs of those convicted. Pet stores and shelters would be required to check the registry and could face a $1,000 fine if they sell a cat, dog or horse to someone on the list.
But Carr believes the law would do little to prevent someone on the registry from traveling to a nearby county to purchase an animal. Most judges already ban people convicted of animal cruelty from owning animals for a period of time, she said, and under current policies, the SPCA and local police work with judges to check they are following the court order.
“It’s actually much more comprehensive what we’re doing in terms of protecting animals from going into the hands of abusers,” Carr said.
Carr also raised concern that the law includes a three-month waiting period before someone on the registry can ask a court to exempt them from the ban on owning pets. In hoarding cases, she said, research shows that offenders are less likely to begin hoarding animals again if they are allowed to keep a small, manageable number of animals and seek treatment.
The proposed law appeared headed toward approval after McCracken, D-Lancaster, revised his earlier proposal to create an animal abuse registry in response to concerns from pet stores and farmers. The new proposal excluded farm animals, fish and “aquatic creatures,” but it also drew new criticism, including from some activists who feel the latest version is too lax.
Tracy Murphy, who is creating a new animal sanctuary, believes farm animals should not be excluded. She pointed to a case last year in which authorities raided a Cattaraugus County farm and removed more than 70 animals described as neglected and malnourished.
Murphy wants the registry to bolster animal cruelty laws she describes as weak in protecting farm animals.
“We just want to get these animals protected in some way,” she said. “It’s a minimal way, but at least it’s a start.”
The law as it was originally proposed a year ago included a much broader definition of animals, including all farm animals, and was lauded by rescue volunteers and animal advocates during a well-attended public hearing. But the measure stalled amid concerns from farmers and pet store owners about its impact on their industries.
As a result, McCracken revised his proposal to exclude all farm animals except horses, as well as fish, turtles and other “aquatic creatures.”
The New York Farm Bureau, however, remains opposed to the proposal. Timothy Bigham, area field supervisor for the Farm Bureau, said the organization is concerned that the latest version of the law considers horses “companion animals.” The bureau is also concerned that someone who is convicted of lesser violations such as improperly transporting horses could be banned from owning animals.
Bigham called the county’s proposal to ban that person from buying or selling animals for five years a “pretty heavy lift.”
McCracken, who proposed the law, said he would take all of the concerns submitted to legislators under consideration before the proposal moves forward.
“I want to make sure it’s right,” McCracken said. “I want to make sure that the animals are protected and that it’s not too much of a burden on the SPCA or the retail pet people. We’ll put forward the best law that protects animals that is also cognizant of people’s ability to do business.”