Recently, legislation has been proposed by state and local governments to initiate individual animal abuse registries. Similar to Megan’s Law for sex offenders, this legislation would require individuals convicted of animal abuse crimes to register with the public database or potentially face fines and/or jail time.
We at Pet-Abuse.Com wholeheartedly support these efforts, and applaud the legislators, advocacy groups and individuals who have worked so hard to get them this far. We were founded on the belief that such registries are vital to the safety and welfare of animals and humans alike, and it has been exciting to see such progressive movement in this direction over the past year.
However, as we watch the momentum behind legislation for registries continue to build, we become increasingly concerned that what seems like a step forward might actually be a step backwards if enough effort in the planning and technical execution of these registries are not considered.
Pet-Abuse.Com was founded in 2001, and was the first searchable database of criminal animal cruelty available on the internet. We made the conscious decision not to call ourselves a registry because the term registry implies that law enforcement agencies are required to report, and we felt that was misleading to the public as there is no true animal abuseregistry online as of October 2010.
Websites that listed cruelty cases before we went online consisted of passionate-but-informal collections of stories in a flat HTML format that was neither searchable nor standardized. Hundreds of cases were painstakingly catalogued by concerned members of the public, but were ultimately meaningless to someone looking for very specific information, or attempting to derive meaningful patterns and statistics from the incidents.
For many years, our website users have been able to search by name, state, county, zip code, and by standardized characteristics of cases, such as those that occurred within the context of a domestic dispute or argument, whether the abuser claimed to be punishing the animal for bad behavior, or cases where drugs or alcohol were involved.
Each case is broken down by an extensive set of data points that have evolved over time by constant discussion and revision with law enforcement, prosecutors, animal advocacy organizations and researchers. Our goal was to standardize the data we were collecting for all cases, so that these common data points could be useful in gathering long-term statistics and determine patterns in animal cruelty crimes.
As new legislation evolves around the concept of creating individual registries for animal cruelty crimes, the immediate need for some manner of standardization regarding the information collected and the method by which it is made available to the public becomes glaringly apparent.
Without this standardization, each of these new registries will function as autonomous entities, with no possibility of data being cross-referenced or collated. Data from one regional database can never be compared to data from another region, or added to overall database. In the long run, this not only means a loss of meaningful statistics, it also splinters this information into dozens and eventually hundreds of individual databases, making it nearly impossible for agencies who wish to determine whether an individual has an animal cruelty conviction. It is challenging enough to convince people to use one database, let alone a dozen.
Imagine there are 300 people in a room, each with a piece of a puzzle which, if completed, could lead to a significant, quantifiable reduction in domestic abuse, gang activity and animal cruelty. The only hitch is that each one of those 300 people speaks a different language, and no one can communicate with one another. Now imagine that there was a way to provide a translator, a rosetta stone, that would allow everyone in that room to share their puzzle pieces without having to learn each others languages. That’s exactly what standardizing this data would accomplish.
Individuals convicted of animal cruelty change locations, moving to different counties, states, and even out of the country. Habitual offenders, those individuals that these types of registries are presumably designed to track, move more often than most.
While we understand that it is not the responsibility of a state or county to maintain a national database, by moving forward without a strong technical plan, they will effectively be stepping backwards in time nearly a decade, making it impossible for organizations such as ours to collate their data into something from which the entire country can benefit.
We implore the lawmakers and agencies responsible for proposing and creating these new registries to form a committee that sets a minimum standard for data collection and ensures that this public data is consumable in a format that will benefit everyone.
Our system was specifically designed for this regional model from the beginning. Our intention was not to be the curators of data, but merely to facilitate its collection and distribution, allowing representatives from authorized agencies to input and manage their own cases.
Good intentions are a great start, but starting off with an informed long-term plan will allow each region to combine their efforts for exponential benefit. This is a critical time in the evolution of these registries, an opportunity for us to collectively work towards a system that serves more than just the state or county each individual registry services. With the proper structure, each registry can work together while maintaining complete independence, contributing towards something much larger than the sum of its parts.
Contact your local legislators who are working on or have recently passed these types of bills. Encourage them to start agreeing the standards now to pave the way for a more humane future.
Pet-Abuse.Com would welcome the opportunity to share our extensive knowledge, technology and resources in this area, and help develop the technical specifications through which a more humane nation is formed.
Alison L. Gianotto