Sacramento -- From state to state, a Bay Area nonprofit shopped its proposal for an animal abuse registry similar to the one used for sex offenders. A decade later and still with no statewide registry, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is trying a new tactic.
The Cotati group is creating its own nationwide database of animal abuse convictions in an effort to stop abusers from exploiting an unchecked system of acquiring pets through adoption, breeders and stores.
This time, the group will ask states - many of which cited cost as the prohibitive factor in not creating such a list - to opt in to the registry by sharing public data that is hard for animal shelters, rescue groups, pet stores and the public to access on their own.
Despite the push, the "Do Not Adopt" registry is a divisive concept that has raised concerns from civil liberties groups and a powerful animal protection organization: the Humane Society.
"There is no existing mechanism to prevent someone convicted of animal abuse from walking into a shelter or going on Craigslist and getting a new animal," said Chris Green, director of legislative affairs at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a 30-year-old organization that runs on private donations and includes a network of pro bono attorneys.
But the Humane Society of the United States argues that the proposed registries appear to be a public shaming of animal abusers, who in many cases have mental health problems. Humane Society spokeswoman Jennifer Fearing said educational efforts are more effective.
Striking a balance"We should be very careful to strike a balance between preventing future animal cruelty, protecting civil liberties and promoting redemption and rehabilitation," Fearing said.
Fearing points to the Humane Society's efforts with NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty in 2007 for his role in a dogfighting ring. She said Vick speaking out against dogfighting can have a greater impact on preventing animal abuse than vilifying him on a registry.
In the past year, a dozen states considered varying forms of animal abuse registries, with some proposals calling for databases available to the public and others giving restricted access to those who sell or offer animals for adoptions.
In many cases, individual shelters keep their own "Do Not Adopt" list that includes incidents that did not result in convictions, and voluntary surrenders in cases of neglect or abuse. However, those lists are rarely shared with other shelters or animal organizations, making it possible to surrender an abused dog to San Francisco's Animal Care and Control to avoid criminal charges and then walk across the street to the SPCA to adopt a new pet.
"We are the agency that does investigations of animal cruelty, but even we don't have all the information," said Rebecca Katz, director of San Francisco's Animal Care and Control. "If it was a statewide thing, nonprofits and public shelters have access to it and that would be helpful."
Katz said the urgency of a registry has been felt this year in San Francisco because of an increase in animal abuse cases that she said were especially violent, including the suspected sexual abuse and beating of a 10-month-old pug mix.
"Any animal registry would help," said Sandra Bernal, an animal care attendant at the city shelter who helps nurse abused animals back to health.
Logan's LawIn many states, proposals for animal abuse registries followed headline-grabbing cases of cruelty against animals, such as Logan's Law, a Michigan bill named after a Siberian husky who had battery acid poured on his muzzle. The bill was dropped in August.
Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a bill to create an abuse registry after the arrest of a man accused of torturing and beating a year-old pit bull he then left for dead on a playground.
California legislators considered an abuse registry in 2010, although the bill struggled to gain support because it would have taxed pet food to fund the database. Four counties in New York have created registries.
The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed some of the registry proposals, saying a public database is a means of further punishing people who have already paid their debt to society.
Green of the Animal Legal Defense Fund said its registry would be searchable only by providing a name and birth date in an effort to ensure that the system focused on decreasing animal cruelty without stepping on civil liberties. Green said the group probably will have to pursue legislation to require states to report animal-abuse convictions to the database.
"It's a good idea that hasn't been successful for the wrong reasons," Green said.
This article has been updated since it appeared in print editions.