First Statewide Animal Abuser Registry

Tennessee's online database goes live on January 1st.
By JoAnna Lou, December 2015, Updated July 2016
Over the past few years, several states have tried unsuccessfully to pass bills creating a registry for animal abusers. These states include Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. While this type of database has been established on the local level, such as the one New York City suburb Suffolk County put in place back in 2010, there are none on the state level.

That will all change on January 1st when Tennessee's online database goes live. Earlier this year, the Animal Abuser Registration Act was signed by Governor Bill Haslam and tasks the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with posting a list of individuals convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, bestiality, and cruelty to animals. The database will be accessible to the public and will help breeders and animal shelters vet potential buyers and adopters.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Darren Jernigan, says that Tennessee was able to pass the legislation because it was limited in scope and didn't put any financial burden on taxpayers. For instance, the unsuccessful bill in New York also required all convicted animal abusers to undergo psychiatric evaluation and banned the person from ever owning a pet again.

But that doesn't mean Tennessee's bill breezed through. The legislation was tweaked for three years before bipartisan consensus could be reached. For now the registry only includes individuals convicted of felonies, but Rep. Jernigan hopes that one day it will also include those convicted of animal abuse-related misdemeanors as well.

Convicted animal abusers' information will remain on the registry for two years following a first offense and five years following a second offense. It will take awhile for names to start appearing on the list since it won't contain retroactive information. Only individuals convicted of crimes after January 1, 2016 will appear on the list.

I hope that other states will follow Tennessee's lead and put similar registries in place. In addition to helping shelters and breeders, it also sends a strong message that the government takes animal abuse seriously. 

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.