Last Update: 1/19/2016 2:19:00 PM
Advocates backing animal abuse registry in Connecticut
HARTFORD, Conn. - Advocates for domestic violence victims and those supporting animal rights are teaming up to support the latest proposal for a public registry in Connecticut that would identify people who abuse animals.
The two groups contend those who abuse animals should be singled out because they're more likely to repeat certain types of abuses, such as animal hoarding, but also to commit violent crimes against people, especially in the form of domestic violence.
"We're continuously viewing opportunities to be responsive in unique ways to keep victims safe," said Karen Jarmoc, president and CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "At the end of the day, it's a very, very credible evidence-based link here."
Connecticut lawmakers have proposed bills in the past, but to no avail, that would have created animal abuse registries similar to sexual abuser registries. This year, with the new legislative session starting Feb. 3, the concept has been resurrected by a task force created by the General Assembly to study the humane treatment of animals in municipal and regional shelters.
The group is suggesting a state-run online registry funded by annual fees charged to offenders. The name, identifying information and photograph of a first-time convicted animal abuser would be posted for five years. Repeat offenders would appear on the registry for 10 years.
Tennessee launched the first statewide animal abuse registry Jan. 1. Other registries exist for cities and counties.
North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda, the group's chairman, said pet shops, animal control officers and human animal adoption groups would be required to search the registry before selling or transferring a pet. The idea came up as a byproduct of the group's efforts to better protect animals, he said.
"What we have seen clearly is a linkage between animal abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse and substance abuse and sexual abuse," Freda said.
The relationship between domestic violence and animal abuse also caught the attention of a second state task force that's been studying the effects of domestic violence on children.
That group's draft report calls for more training on the link between animal cruelty and child abuse. A 2014 law already allowed cross-reporting of animal abuse and child abuse between the Department of Children and Families and animal control officers.
Jarmoc, who leads that task force, said abusers use many tools to try and scare a victim. One of them is threatening to kill or harm the family pet.
"Sadly, it's a reason quite often why victims stay. They're concerned if they can't protect their pet, who they love so dearly, they really can't leave," she said. The domestic violence coalition has an agreement with the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association, which has made vets available to temporarily house pets while a victim is in a shelter.
The children's task force is also supporting another bill that would create an advocate in Superior Court to represent the interests of an animal in abuse cases and provide information and records to judges about the nature of the crime.
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who has proposed the legislation for several years, said that while she supports the animal abuser registry idea, it might not entirely useful, considering the state's conviction record for animal abuse cases is 18 percent. She contends that having an advocate in the court - a pro bono law student, under her proposal - will highlight the seriousness of the crime, heighten the conviction rate and ultimately boost the number of people on the abuse registry.
"We need to start looking at this as a real act of violence," she said.