posted January 06, 2014 06:35 AM
Shivering, starving and unloved, abused and neglected animals too commonly make news in the Poconos.
Etched in the minds of many is the photo of Lexi, the Pike County dog whose owner bound her legs and muzzle tightly with duct tape and left her in a chicken coop.
Another dog named Lexi was discovered in Monroe County with more than 20 broken bones from abuse.
Just as heartbreaking: There are animals that will never make the news but are spending winter outside, cowering from the cold, dying for affection and a water bowl that has not frozen over.
"It's not unique to the Poconos. It happens all over the state," Rep. Mike Carroll, D-118, said of animal abuse.
His office receives many calls from citizens concerned about animal abuse.
That is why Carroll has co-sponsored a bill that calls for an animal abuser registry in Pennsylvania.
Similar registries have been proposed in 26 states, but none has succeeded in becoming a state law, said Chris Green, legislative affairs director at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
However, a few counties in New York have made it law for animal abusers to be put on a list, Green said.
In Pennsylvania, the legislation, House Bill 265, would require convicted animal abusers to register with the county sheriff once a year for 15 years.
The sheriff would then inform every residence, school, humane society, animal shelter and any business within a half-mile radius of the animal abuser's residence.
The state police would also get the abuser's name and put it on an online, publicly searchable database of animal abusers, similar to the current Megan's Law sex offender registry.
If the state law is passed, anyone registered on the list would be barred from owning an animal.
The bill was moved to the Judiciary Committee in January 2013, where it remains. The legislature has until November 2014 to act on it, or it will have to be reintroduced in a future session.
"It will take a commitment by the majority to run the bill out of the committee, hopefully in 2014," Carroll said.
He is optimistic because the bill has received bipartisan support so far.
Maintaining a list
Most animal shelters keep a "do-not-adopt" list of people that the shelter will not allow to take animals, Green said.
"People acquire animals from shelters and go on to abuse them," Green said. "One problem is hoarders."
That is, people who keep so many animals in their home that they are unable to care for them properly. Often hoarders feel compelled to continue acquiring animals even after they have been court-ordered to stop.
The Pike County Humane Society in Shohola has a do-not-adopt list.
"Not only that, we share the information with any other shelters in the area," said shelter Director Barry Heim. "We've been doing that for at least 15 years."
The do-not-adopt list in shelters is often subjective.
In Pike, they are watching for people who show signs of abuse in their relationships. For example, if a husband is really bossy with his wife and kids, Heim said.
Instead of waiting for each state to build an animal abuse registry, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is building its own nationwide database of abusers.
"We wanted to put together something accessible nationwide and populate it with official convictions," Green said.
State registries don't cross state lines, but a nationwide database is more comprehensive.
"It will provide a tool that pet stores, shelters and individuals can use to assure that an animal is going to a home that is worthy," Green said. "Shelters want this. The whole point is to prevent convicted animal abusers from obtaining more animals to abuse."
The national registry will be searchable by full name and date of birth.
Most shelters already have access to that information because they require a driver's license or identification to adopt a pet.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has already acquired decades of animal abuse convictions for many states and expects to have the registry operating in early 2014.
The national registry would be used as a tool for pet stores, shelters and individuals to look up the name of anyone wishing to adopt a pet.
The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded by attorneys in 1979 who work to protect animals through the legal system by advocating for stronger enforcement of anti-cruelty laws nationwide.