When Calypso first arrived to Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue, she had just been saved from a drug deal gone bad.
“She was a Catahoula-Great Dane mix,” said Karen Kneiss, an employee at Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue. “She was beautiful; prettiest dog I’ve ever seen. She had a very big stab wound just underneath her neck, so we took her in and kept her for several weeks before we adopted her out.”
Florida lawmakers now hope to prevent animal abusers from owning new animals by creating a statewide animal abuser registry.
House Bill 871, filed on Friday by Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz and Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, would require convicted animal abuse felons to be entered into a public registry. Pet stores, humane societies and other animal shelters would be required to verify that potential purchasers or adopters are not on the registry.
Shelters like Haile’s Angels have an application process and ask the potential adopter questions before approving them. However, stores and shelters have no way of knowing for certain whether that person has been convicted of an animal abuse related crime.
“If you’re guilty of animal cruelty and you’re out and not in jail, but you’ve been adjudicated as guilty of animal cruelty, we want to make sure that you don’t have access to new animals,” Moskowitz said. “The whole point of the bill is to make breeders, dog stores and shelters check the list for people who’ve been adjudicated as guilty of animal cruelty to make sure that they can’t get their hands on any animals.”
If passed, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would create and maintain a public registry on its website. Anyone who is convicted of felony animal abuse starting Jan. 1, 2018, will have their name and picture posted on the site for two years. If they have a subsequent conviction, their information will remain for an additional five years.
If a store or shelter sells to someone on the list, they could be charged with a second or first degree misdemeanor and a possible $2,500 fine, depending if they’ve had prior offenses.
As of now, Tennessee is the only state who has a statewide registry. Only two counties in Florida have local county registries: Marion and Hillsborough.
Linda Little Wolf, an animal advocate and founder of the Florida Animal Abuser Registry Movement, started advocating for local registries in 2015. She helped craft the ordinances in Marion and Hillsborough County that are law today.
“The more counties that I could get to pass county-level animal abuser registries in local government, the more it would start a domino effect across the state,” Little Wolf said. “It would wake up our state legislators and make them aware that this is absolutely necessary.”
Although Little Wolf believed it is a good step in the right direction, she said she wants to see animal abusers banned from owning animals. As written, the bill would only prevent animal abusers from buying or adopting new animals, but does not mention anything about owning animals in general.
“If they wanted to list their name for two years, they need to ban that individual from owning animals for that period of time,” Little Wolf said. “And a subsequent conviction, which would be five years on the statewide registry, they would need to ban that individual from owning or possessing animals for that period of time. That’s where it needs to be strengthened.”
Both Little Wolf and Moskowitz pointed to evidence that suggests a direct correlation between people who are habitual animal abusers and those who end up becoming a child, spousal or sexual abuser.
Other Florida residents have taken matters into their own hands. Kim Townsend, founder of the National Do Not Adopt Registry, posts information about people who have been accused by their fellow neighbors. As long as they provide Townsend with sufficient evidence – a photo or video of the accused person abusing an animal – she will post their information on her registry.
“How do you know that your neighbor isn’t doing this unless they’re convicted?” Townsend said. “Unless there’s some kind of registry that these people can go on, people don’t know about it unless they’re convicted.”
Little Wolf agreed the bill is a step in the right direction, but said it is not as strong as what she’s helped create in Marion and Hillsborough County. She said she will continue advocating for stricter, harsher punishments.
“It can be done,” Little Wolf said. “It has to be done.”