Oh heck, why dither: The proposal by state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) to create a registry of animal abusers -- to be funded by a new tax on pet food -- is a cockamamie idea.
Animal protection is rightly a concern of most Californians, and the state has some of the stiffest laws in the nation against illegal enterprises such as dogfighting and cockfighting. California is also in the forefront of the national movement to improve treatment of farm animals, and Florez deserves credit for championing this cause. But to track felons convicted of animal abuse, publicizing their names, addresses and places of employment forever -- long after they've served their time or paid their fines -- would be way over the line.
There is a certain appeal to knowing where the criminal offenders among us live. But if we are going to take that route, then why not track drunk drivers or drug dealers or people convicted of domestic violence or car theft? The reason is that ours is a society that believes once their sentences have been served, offenders should have an opportunity to reform and begin life anew. Exceptions have been made in the cases of sex offenders and arsonists, who are believed to have a particular tendency toward recidivism, but that should not become standard practice. It's a reckless way to fight crime.
The pet food tax is just bad policy. As a rule, sales taxes hurtthe poor disproportionately. Hiking them can be effective, however, when it discourages undesirable behavior linked with the purchase, such as an increase in the excise tax on cigarettes. But is the owner of a tabby cat really responsible for cockfighting? Florez said he does not know yet how much such a registry would cost. But a system that calls for returning convicted animal abusers to prison for failing to register is going to add up to a lot more than a few cents on every can of Alpo.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which drafted the bill, says the registry would serve as an early warning system for potentially violent criminals, citing the cases of serial killers and school shooters who had tortured animals as children. The FBI has long acknowledged a connection between cruelty to animals and sociopathic behavior. Would a registry help? Maybe, maybe not. Jeffrey Dahmer abused animals as a child, and with age moved on to human prey. Yet he would not have been tracked, because the registry would apply only to those 18 or older.
What is certain is that the worst abusers -- animal hoarders, proprietors of puppy mills and fighting rings -- share a variation of the same pathology, a lack of empathy. California already prohibits their cruel behavior, and a registry, however tempting, won't help them to learn compassion.