Outrage over unused animal abuse registry inspires new call for statewide legislation

Outrage over unused animal abuse registry inspires new call for statewide legislation

It’s heartbreaking to think of someone abusing an animal—it’s even worse to think that, even after being convicted, they’re still allowed to go into a store and buy a new pet.

A registry set up in Illinois three years ago was meant to put a stop to this problem. Unfortunately, it has gone completely unutilized ever since. But now, new attention and an upcoming statewide bill could change everything.

In 2016, Cook County, Illinois established the Cook County Animal Abuser Registry. Under county ordinance, judges were instructed to order convicted animal abusers to register, and for the clerk to share that county with the sheriff’s office. The registry was intended to prevent abusers from buying pets: one who attempts to could be fined $5,000.

But in the three years since, the registry has gone completely unused. While people have been found guilty of animal abuse crimes, their names simply haven’t made it to the database.

An investigation by CBS 2 found it was largely due to miscommunication between the various agencies involved.

John Fritchey, a former county commissioner who fought for the creation of the registry, said he was “shocked” to hear the registry was going unused.

“This was not something that was passed as a feel good ordinance,” he told CBS 2. “This is something that was passed to protect animals, to prevent felons from getting their hands on more animals.”

“The sad reality is I have no doubt that there are people who should not have been able to buy a pet, who have been convicted of committing horrible crimes against the animals, who have walked out of pet shops with new victims.”

Animal workers were also saddened that the valuable registry wasn’t being utilized.

“We have an amazing tool that should be utilized,” Heather Weidmann, who works at Whiskers and Tails Rescue, told CBS 2. “I’m sort of speechless.”

“It makes me very angry that people worked to get this passed, and rescues like us were ecstatic for it when it passed. And it’s literally just been sitting there for three years.”

But the new attention towards the three-year-dormant legislation has prompted a new, wider-reaching legislation that could make a huge difference.

Illinois state senator Tom Cullerton had previously sponsored a bill for a statewide animal abuse registry, which would prohibit residents convicted of animal abuse from owning a pet for 7-10 years.

“I just don’t want these animals to get in the wrong people’s hands, and if you have a history of violence against animals, you shouldn’t be able to just walk into a pet store and pick out another animal you’re going to abuse, because you have something wrong with you,” Cullerton told CBS 2.

He is planning to reintroduce the bill in January, at the start of the next state legislative session. He hopes that a statewide registry will close loopholes in the current ordinence, and run more smoothly than the county system.

“It seems like it’s going through multiple agencies … and while I don’t think anybody has the intent of not doing it, they just don’t know whose jurisdiction it falls under,” Cullerton said of the current system. “So hopefully through our state registry, it will make it very clear.”

While the proposed bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, it’s still an inspiring step forward—a meaningful response to a systemic issue that’s leaving innocent animals in harm’s way.

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