Pet-Abuse-com founder pleads for registry data standards
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
Recently, legislation has been proposed by state and local
governments to initiate individual animal abuse registries.
Similar to Megan’s Law for sex offenders, this legislation
would require individuals convicted of animal abuse crimes to
register with the public database or potentially face fines and/or
We at Pet-Abuse.Com wholeheartedly support these efforts,
and applaud the legislators, advocacy groups, and individuals who
have worked so hard to get them this far. We were founded on the
belief that such registries are vital to the safety and welfare of
animals and humans alike, and it has been exciting to see such
progressive movement in this direction over the past year.
However, as we watch the momentum behind legislation for
registries continue to build, we become increasingly concerned that
what seems like a step forward might actually be a step backwards if
the planning and technical execution of these registries are
Pet-Abuse.Com was founded in 2001, and was the first
searchable database of criminal animal cruelty available on the
internet. We made the conscious decision not to call ourselves a
registry because the term registry implies that law enforcement
agencies are required to report, and we felt that was misleading to
the public. There is still no true animal abuse registry online as
of October 2010.
Websites that listed cruelty cases before we went online
consisted of passionate-but-informal collections of stories presented
in a flat HTML format that was neither searchable nor standardized.
Hundreds of cases were painstakingly catalogued by concerned members
of the public, but were ultimately meaningless to someone looking
for very specific information, or attempting to derive meaningful
patterns and statistics from the incidents.
For many years Pet-Abuse.Com website users have been able to
search our archives by name, state, county, zip code, and by
standardized characteristics of cases, such as those that occurred
within the context of a domestic dispute or argument, whether the
abuser claimed to be punishing the animal for bad behavior, or cases
where drugs or alcohol were involved.
Each case is broken down by an extensive set of data points
that have evolved over time through constant discussion and revision
with law enforcement, prosecutors, animal advocacy organizations
and researchers. Our goal is to standardize the data we collect, so
that these common data points can be help to gather longterm
statistics and recognize patterns in cruelty to animals.
As new legislation evolves to create individual registries
for animal cruelty crimes, the need for standardization becomes
glaringly apparent. Without standardization, each new registry will
function as an autonomous entity, with no possibility of data being
cross-referenced or collated.
Data from one regional database might never be compared to
data from another region, or be added to an overall database. In
the long run, this not only means a loss of meaningful statistics,
but also splinters the information into dozens and eventually
hundreds of individual databases, making it nearly impossible for
agencies to determine whether a suspect has a previous animal cruelty
conviction. It is challenging enough to convince people to use one
database, let alone dozens.
Imagine there are 300 people in a room, each with a piece of
a puzzle which, if completed, could lead to a significant,
quantifiable reduction in domestic abuse, gang activity, and
cruelty to animals. But each of those 300 people speaks a different
language, and none can communicate with each other. Now imagine
that there was a way to provide a translator, a Rosetta Stone, that
would allow everyone in that room to share puzzle pieces without
having to learn each others’ languages. That’s what standardizing
this data would accomplish.
Individuals convicted of animal cruelty often change
locations, move to different counties and states, and even move out
of the country. Habitual offenders, the individuals that animal
cruelty case registries are most needed to track, move the most
We understand that it is not the responsibility of a state or
county to maintain a national database. However, agencies moving
forward without a strong technical plan will in effect be stepping
backward in time nearly a decade.
We implore the lawmakers and agencies responsible for
proposing and creating these new registries to form a committee that
sets a minimum standard for data collection and ensures that this
public data is usable in a format that will benefit everyone.
The Pet-Abuse.com system was specifically designed for this
regional model from the beginning. Our intention was not to be the
curators of data, but merely to facilitate data collection and
distribution, allowing representatives from authorized agencies to
input and manage their own cases.
The county legislature in Suffolk County, New York on
October 14, 2010 voted to become the first region in the United
States to implement a government operated public animal abuse
registry. Please contact your legislators to encourage them to
follow Suffolk County’s example, and impress upon them the importance
of establishing a national standard so that each registry becomes
part of a greater solution.
Pet-Abuse.Com would welcome the opportunity to share our
extensive knowledge, technology and resources in this area, and
help to develop the technical specifications through which a more
humane nation can be formed.
–Alison L. Gianotto