Tennessee Tries to Stop Animal Abusers in Their Tracks

The state legislature created a registry to inform its citizens and protect its animal residents

By Benjy Schirm, J.D. | Last updated on January 9, 2023

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From emotional damages to pet trusts, the law has made some significant strides in recent years to better establish and recognize animal rights. In May 2015, Tennessee made history when its state legislature passed the Animal Abuser Registration Act, making it the first state to track people who have been convicted of an animal abuse crime. In addition to providing citizens with the ability of searching potential abusers in their area (not unlike sexual offender registries), one of the hopes of the Animal Abuse Registry is that animal providers, animal shelters, humane societies, breeders and pet stores in the state check it before selling an animal. While this registry is the first for a state law, municipalities in New York, Florida and Illinois have local ordinances and advocates are continuing to push for a national database to further protect animal welfare.

What Does This Registry Involve?

The bill gave authority to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to list the offenders associated with aggravated cruelty to animals, felony animal fighting and sexual acts with animals. The law applies to companion animals or non-livestock animals, meaning dogs, cats, exotic animals and domesticated chicks, ducks and pot-bellied pigs. Any person convicted of one of the criminal offenses above must list their name, date of birth, offense, and date of conviction. Offenders must pay a $50 registration fee and provide a recent picture. Failure to register comes with a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. The period of time on the registry is a mandatory two years with a five year extension for any further cruelty discovered while they are on the registry. Other laws in Tennessee allow the courts to order any person convicted of the offenses above to not own any domestic animals for a period of the judge’s choosing.

How Can I Help?

Animals cannot advocate for themselves. But humans can do so on their behalf. Hoarding often leads to animal abuse and negligent care, and there are laws in Tennessee that address it. If you see or suspect any animal abuse, call your local animal control agency or the department. You additionally have the option of seeking a civil protection order on behalf of the animals that are being abused. For help in filing, seek out the help of an experienced family law attorney or civil litigation attorney. For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of animal law, family law and custody and visitation law.

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