Crime & Justice

California Weighs State Registry For Animal Abusers

A proposed law would require convicted animal abusers to register with a statewide database similar to the national database for sex offenders. Many proponents of the registry believe animals have the same basic rights as humans.

California was a pioneer in establishing a database for convicted sexual predators.

Now, the state may be on the verge of doing something similar for animal abusers.

Lawmakers there are considering a bill that would establish a statewide animal cruelty registry, and one case of extreme cruelty near Los Angeles is helping drive the measure.

Dog's Brutal Death Galvanizes Activists

After several days of rain, the view from Armintrout Drive, in Riverside County, is splendid. As wind rustles the tall grass in the ravine just below us, Jeff Toole is pointing out his former home.

"We shared this common driveway here, which goes about three-quarters of the way up to our houses ... he goes to the left and I go to the right," Toole says.

"He" is Toole's ex-neighbor, former assistant Los Angeles County fire chief Glynn Johnson. Toole says Johnson, in a fit of rage and in front of witnesses, savagely beat the Toole family's 6-month-old German shepherd mix, Karley, pummeling her with a large rock. Toole recalls the puppy's condition when they found her, barely alive, huddled in the bushes near their home.

"It was horrific," Toole says. "I mean, she had numerous skull fractures, crushed nasal passage, ear canal crushed, broken jaw. A good percentage of her teeth were busted out — horrendous."

The damage was so great, Karley was euthanized. Johnson was convicted of felony animal cruelty and awaits sentencing next month. Shelley Toole says her family moved from their dream home shortly after Johnson was arrested.

"We were afraid of what he might do to us after this happened and charges were filed against him," Shelly Toole says.

Animal Cruelty Often A Precursor To Human Violence

The Tooles were right to be concerned, says Randall Lockwood, a forensic scientist at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He says animal abuse is often a precursor to violence towards humans.

"Particularly the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse as well as general criminal and antisocial behavior," Lockwood says.

Lockwood notes that FBI profilers have long recognized that serial killers have a history of abusing animals.

California State Senator Dean Florez recently introduced a bill that, if passed, would create a mandatory state registry for animal abusers, much like the national database that exists for sexual predators.

"We're talking about things like violence, torture, mutilation, intentional killing of animals, sexual abuse with animals," Florez says.

Basic Rights For Animals

More and more states are enacting increasingly stringent animal protection laws. The Animal Legal Defense Fund says not long ago, only four states in the U.S. had some kind of animal anti-cruelty statute. Now 46 states do.

Lockwood says politicians have paid attention as more and more connections are made between animal abuse and human abuse.

"We have much stronger laws available to us, now, going after animal cruelty, and I think that is partly due to the perception by the general public and the law enforcement and mental health communities that this connection is real and is quite strong," Lockwood says.

The City of West Hollywood has gone even further. It's established a legal code of rights for pets, which are referred to as "companion animals" who live with "human guardians."

Animal abusers there face some of the stiffest punishment in the nation.

City councilman John Duran says stronger penalties for animal abusers indicate the law is catching up to society's changing values.

"Just as we've learned to sort of respect our planet and think green, we're also starting to see animals not just as property, not something to be owned or possessed for human beings' pleasure, but a separate, individual creature that inhabits the earth just as we do," Duran says.

And that, many people have begun to believe, have some of the same basic rights as their human counterparts. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit