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Erie County legislator battles skeptics of proposed animal abuse registry

The Beth Hoskins horse-neglect case has rekindled a push by an Erie County legislator to establish a public animal abuse registry and prohibit anyone convicted of animal abuse from buying or adopting any animals for five years.

The proposed law – described by some animal rights activists as too tough, and by others as too lax – has languished in a legislative committee. Former Democratic Legislator Terrence McCracken introduced the measure three years ago, and fellow Democrat Patrick Burke reintroduced it. The Niagara County Legislature adopted a similar registry law in October.

Now, Burke wants a public hearing held for the proposal, and he hopes the measure might eventually be voted on before it dies in committee in March.

“Our neighbors have passed this legislation,” he said. “And some of the concerns raised at the original hearing with the original law have been adjusted.”

Originally pushed by McCracken in 2012 with majority support, the proposed law drew support from many animal rights activists and rescue volunteers but criticism from farmers and pet store owners. It was revised the following year to exclude fish and other aquatic life as well as all farm animals except horses.

But the SPCA Serving Erie County, which was originally expected to help develop and maintain the registry, opposed it. The agency warned of a costly burden and duplication of current safeguards aimed at stopping animal cruelty. Farmers also opposed the inclusion of horses under the law.

Burke reintroduced the animal abuse registry proposal last March after further revisions. The latest version eliminates the SPCA as the registry manager and dropped language that explicitly included horses under the law’s umbrella.

“I would have had horses included in this,” he said. “But there doesn’t seems to be any political will for that at all, unfortunately.”

Even if the current proposal was adopted, it would not apply in the Hoskins case.

Republican Legislature Chairman John Mills, who is expected to remain chairman for another year, said he doesn’t see Burke’s proposal coming up for another hearing.

“It really has to be reconstructed in another way,” he said. “The way it is, it’s not going anywhere.”

The Erie County SPCA opposes the latest animal abuse registry proposal. When the revised bill was reintroduced, Executive Director Barbara Carr sent the Legislature a letter calling it redundant of court mandates in animal abuse cases and insufficient to address the bigger issues of animal hoarding and neglect that compose the majority of SPCA complaints.

Burke said he respects – but disagrees – with Carr’s opinion. Many SPCAs outside of Erie County have favored similar laws elsewhere, he said.

“Barbara Carr is one person in the animal rights community, and there are many other people who have a different opinion,” he said.