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For the animals; Proposed law on cruelty may need massaging, but it is a good start

A proposal in the Erie County Legislature that would force people convicted of animal cruelty in the county to register on a public website is probably not a bad idea. The details would have to be finely tuned.

Freshman Legislator Terrence D. McCracken, D-Lancaster, like many people, was alarmed by the recent high-profile cases of hoarding and animal abuse, so he proposed the registry. It already has six sponsors in the 11-member Legislature, but it will be interesting to hear the public's viewpoint.

Some questions come to mind, especially whether displaying the pictures of those convicted of animal cruelty is taking a good idea too far. After all, a distinction needs to be made between someone who is truly guilty of animal cruelty in a sense of premeditated and intentional harm versus someone who unintentionally left her dog in the car for 20 minutes in the hot sun, not realizing that even this short duration would be too much.

And then there are those who truly have a disease or disorder that causes them to lose touch of the number of animals they have wandering around the house. Television networks are cashing in on animal hoarders, not to mention general hoarding.

There should be clear distinction between those who need help and those who pose a danger to society, evidenced by their historical cruel treatment of animals.

McCracken gets credit for tackling an issue so close to so many people's hearts -- their treasured pets and the treatment, in general, of animals. Modeled after a similar law enacted two years ago in Suffolk County, McCracken said he worked with the District Attorney's Office and the Sheriff's Department on the language.

Those who must register also would be required to pay an annual $50 fee for the registry's administration and maintenance. The proposal also calls for the Erie County Sheriff's Department to contract with the SPCA Serving Erie County or a similar agency to create and maintain the online registry.

There are those who object, particularly some pet store owners, to the part in the law that would make pet sellers and adoption agencies responsible for checking that anyone to whom they sell an animal is not listed on the registry. But this level of prescreening ought to be commonplace. The law also would impose a fine of up to $1,000 on anyone on the registry who violates the ban on owning or buying an animal, again not objectionable.

It's clear that some language on the books and consequences for offenders are in order. Perhaps this is a place to start.