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Brevard County commissioners back animal abuse registry with ‘toothless’ enforcement

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County Commission Chair Bryan Lober conceded Tuesday that his proposal to create an animal abuse registry is "totally toothless," as far as enforcement goes.

But he nevertheless wants the information on people convicted of animal abuse or animal cruelty readily accessible for the public to see, in case the offenders try to get a pet or work with animals.

Lober’s proposed ordinance to create an animal abuse registry cleared its first hurdle, as the County Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve what’s known as “legislative intent.” That vote allows the proposal to be advertised and for a public hearing to be scheduled, likely in January. After that hearing, commissioners will take a final vote on the measure.

Lober agreed Tuesday to remove a section of the ordinance that would have prohibited anyone on the registry from:

• Owning, possessing or living in the same home with any animal, unless otherwise provided in a court order.

• Working with animals — with or without compensation — unless otherwise provided by court order.

Lober noted that there were no penalties contained in the ordinance for violations and no enforcement mechanism against the person with the history of animal cruelty or abuse. Similarly, there are no potential penalties against the entities selling or adopting out the animal, such as pet stores, hobby breeders, animal shelters, animal rescue organizations or individuals.

Lober said his goal is to get the information to the public through the registry — “to serve as a resource,” so people can choose wisely when selling or adopting out a dog, cat or other animal.

Among the animal abuse crimes that would be covered by the registry are these violations of state statute:

• Cruelty to animals.

• Fighting or baiting animals.

• Killing dog or cat with the intent of selling or giving away the pelt.

• Sexual activities involving animals.

• Confinement of animals without sufficient food, water or exercise.

• Abandonment of animals.

The ordinance also would apply for non-criminal violations of provisions of Brevard County’s animal ordinance related to failure to surrender an animal or carcass; cruel and inhumane treatment of animals; retail sale of dogs and cats at pet stores; and abandonment of animals.

Under Lober's proposal, an animal abuser would remain on the registry for 10 years following his or her release from incarceration; or, if not incarcerated, 10 years from the date of the judgment finding a violation of an animal abuse violation.

Lober said the Brevard County Clerk of Courts Office would provide updates to the database twice a month.

Lober said the data would have links from the county's official website and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office's Animal Services website.

County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi said the registry would provide residents with an easy-to-access resource.

That's in contrast with what Lober indicated was the current potentially cumbersome process of sorting through an online database of all types of crimes and traffic infractions.

"I love the idea of a registry," County Commission Vice Chair Rita Pritchett said in support of the proposal.

Pritchett also noted that some people "who torture animals — it's a segue to doing really bad things to people."

However, Commissioner John Tobia said, although he voted in favor of legislative intent to move the proposal forward to a public hearing, he likely would vote against the ordinance when it comes up for a final vote.

Commissioner Curt Smith said he will discuss the proposal further with Brevard County Sheriff's Office officials so he can be comfortable the ordinance does not have unintended consequence. He cited as an example a hunter who may be accused of animal cruelty by an opponent of hunting or someone with a personal issue with the hunter.

Lober emphasized that only people convicted of animal cruelty or animal abuse would appear in the registry, not someone wrongly accused of such an offense.

The proposed countywide ordinance encourages entities that sell, exchange or otherwise transfer of ownership of any animal to examine the registry to see if the potential acquirer of the animal is on the registry.

Lober said Florida counties that have similar registries or databases include Hillsborough, Marion, Pasco and Volusia.