Chicago Sun-Times: Ordinance calls for Animal Abuse Registry, denies pets to abusers

By: Mitch Dudek

The Cook County Board is expected to vote Wednesday on an ordinance that would create an Animal Abuser Registry to prohibit convicted animal abusers from buying or adopting a companion animal for 15 years.

People with multiple animal abuse convictions would be banned for life.

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, who drafted the ordinance, said the measure is akin to the sex offender registry.

It would require anyone convicted of any form of animal abuse — including dog fighting, animal torture and aggravated cruelty — to register their names and addresses with the Animal Abuser Registry. Failure to register would result in a fine up to $2,000.

The ordinance would also require pet shops, shelters and rescues to check the registry before selling or adopting an animal. Each would face fines for providing a pet to someone on the registry: up to $1,000 for the first offense, up to $2,000 for a second offense, and up to $5,000 for a third.

It also prohibits individuals from purchasing or adopting an animal on behalf of a person on the registry or from purchasing or adopting an animal if that person shares the same address with someone who is registered.

The registry, however, would only include the names of people convicted of animal abuse after the law takes effect. It would not retro-actively include the names of people previously convicted of animal abuse.

“If I had the option I would include those people, but I can’t go back and do it. It would be a post-conviction enhancement of their penalties, and I can’t do that,” Fritchey said Tuesday.

If passed, the ordinance will cover all Cook County municipalities, including the city of Chicago, and take effect Jan. 1.

Fritchey expects the measure to pass.

“It would be hard to imagine anyone opposing trying to crack down on people convicted of animal abuse,” he said Tuesday.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who owns two Goldendoodles and who’s made combatting dog fighting a key initiative of his administration, helped shape the ordinance. Dart’s office would be in charge of maintaining the database and enforcing the law.

“Checking the registry will literally only take one or two minutes, and it will prevent well-meaning store owners and people who work at rescues and shelters from unknowingly providing animals to known abusers,” said Fritchey, a bachelor who shares his River North home with Smudge, his pet Shar-Pei. Smudge has a following on social media and is arguably more popular than his owner, Fritchey joked.

Fritchey said the only pushback he got on the ordinance was from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which voiced concern that the ordinance could put pet store clerks at risk of assault by angry customers who are denied because they are on the registry.

“I countered by saying this is no different than a bartender taking the risk of not serving someone who has been over served,” Fritchey said.

“They said they could be neutral if we limited this to cats and dogs and rabbits. I said ‘What about setting a guinea pig on fire?’ Animal abuse is animal abuse.”

A spokeswoman for the Merchants Association was not immediately available for comment.