By Kathryn Monsewicz
The above podcast features interviews with the Stark County Dog Warden, Ohio SPCA, and Stark County Humane Society about House Bill 755.
Snapshots of some companion animals up for adoption at the Stark County Humane Society. Photos by Kathryn Monsewicz.
House Bill 755 was introduced into the Ohio Legislature in October 2018 to establish a registry for those convicted of or who pleaded guilty to animal abuse offenses. The registration would be maintained by the Attorney General’s Office with access granted to local and state law enforcement.
The bill proposed on the Legislature’s website details types of animal abuse, how long an abuser would be listed on the registry, and the cost to maintain it.
While House Bill 755 would be a statewide registry, the FBI maintains its own national database of animal cruelty cases. Stark County Dog Warden Jon Barber noted that since abusers tend to cross state lines, it is difficult to determine how the information of a statewide registry would be shared with other states.
“Law enforcement is supposed to be reporting convictions for animal cruelty to the FBI National Crime Information Center so they can enter it in to that system, so anyone across the United States who is investigating a person can pull that up and find information,” Barber said.
The FBI’s database allows law enforcement access to reports of animal cruelty so other agencies may analyze the threat potential of known or suspected criminals. This information enables them to see how cruelty to an animal can lead to the abuser committing increasingly violent crimes, according to the bureau’s website. The database is aimed at showing trends and helping law enforcement treat cases of animal cruelty more seriously, as crimes against society.
Teresa Landon, the director of the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the bill faces a more direct problem.
“We are in the second-year cycle of bills and it’s unlikely this bill is going to go anywhere. It’s going to die and it’s going to have to be reintroduced,” Landon said.
Landon noted that multiple states have tried to pass similar bills establishing animal abuse registries. Cuyahoga County in northeast Ohio established its own animal abuse registry through its Sheriff’s Department in July 2014.
Though there may be problems with establishing the registry, Landon, Barber, and Jackie Godbey, director of the Stark County Humane Society, all concluded that, in general, it would be a step in the right direction to prevent and stop animal cruelty. It offers documentation of incidents by repeat offenders.
Godbey recalled the Scott Winter case from October 2018 in which Winter of Canton, Ohio, pleaded guilty to strangling and skinning alive his pit bull companion. Winter was charged under Goddard’s Law, a law that went into effect September 2016 that made causing serious physical harm to a companion animal a fifth-degree felony with a fine and prison sentence of six to 12 months.
“We had charged him two years prior with (four) counts of animal cruelty. He had already been convicted, charged, failed to do his community service, and this happened up in Summit County. It was out of our county, so they didn’t even realize (the previous charges),” Godbey said. “We had just charged him. He had a number of Rottweilers that were pretty bad and he was still on probation and stuff through the charges we did two years ago. He was supposed to do time.”
Godbey called Winter’s final sentence controversial because, while he was sentenced to one year, the judge announced the possibility of Winter’s early release for good behavior.
Goddard’s Law, however, was a “godsend” according to Godbey.
“We’ve already had a number of cases where, instead of being a misdemeanor, which to me is like a smack on the wrist, it’s a felony: something where they’ll actually serve jail time, be fined and have community service to do,” Godbey said.
Landon also mentioned Goddard’s Law, but also the offenses that go unchecked by it and whether or not misdemeanor offenses would be included in the registry that House Bill 755 would establish.
“With Goddard’s law, felonies have now been charged against people who have done serious animal abuse. But then you have all the other crimes that are committed that are not charged, and we consider them to be just as serious,” Landon said.
Should the bill pass as is, humane societies and animal shelters will be unable to adopt out any animals to a person whose name appears on the registry. How animal shelters adopt out animals depends on the prospective pet owner’s background and/or impression shelters get of the person trying to adopt. With the registry adoption centers would more easily determine if a person is eligible – or safe – to adopt out an animal.
“I think an animal abuse registry would be that added plus where we might be able to broaden the scope of the search for someone who has committed an animal-abuse crime,” Landon said.
A registry may help document previous cases and show shelters and humane societies who they can and cannot adopt an animal out to, but Barber says the registry is not an end-all solution to animal cruelty.
“It’s going to have to be people being diligent and reporting these types of things. We can only investigate what is brought to our attention,” Barber said. “Don’t think that just because we have a registry, it’s a scarlet letter. That’s not always the case. We still have to have information to be able to hold (pet owners) accountable.”
The information would be supplied by people looking out for animals and the registry would keep that information documented. Godbey believes in the work it will take to establish the registry.
“In the long run, if it helps an animal then it’s well worth it,” Godbey said.
— Kathryn Monsewicz (@kathryniskatie) December 1, 2018