New animal abuser database coming

Osceola County Animal Services is working to develop a searchable database for animal abuse and cruelty offenders to help keep pets safe.

The new tool, which is set to go before the County Commission next month, follows on the heels of a new anti-animal cruelty state law that went into effect Oct. 1.  

In April, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill to help prevent animal-abuse offenders from owning pets. It also makes it more likely offenders will face severe felonies and jail time.

Known as Ponce’s Law, the legislation is named after a Labrador retriever puppy found beaten to death in Ponce Inlet last year. The puppy’s owner, Travis Archer, is awaiting trial on felony animal cruelty charges.

The new law went into effect Oct. 1, and it includes several provisions that impact the criminal justice system and local animal shelters.

Now, all rescue groups, animal shelters and humane societies are required to have written procedures in place for returning stray pets to their owners quickly and reliably, according to Osceola County Animal  Services Director Kim Staton.

“There was kind of this side bar to the cruelty piece of the law to ensure that every shelter is doing their due diligence to make sure pets are getting back to their legitimate owners,” she said.

Osceola County Animal Services is also working to create an animal abuse registry provision in the county code.

This registry would be an added feature on the Osceola County Clerk of Court’s website, and would allow individuals to search for people with convicted animal cruelty and abuse charges.

Staton said she and her staff are already familiar with most animal cruelty offenders in Osceola County, and would never allow anyone to adopt a pet with a history of abuse.

But, she said the tool can be useful for other smaller animal rescue groups, or even residents who want to make sure  pet is going to a good home.

“By having a site that people can go directly to, it will help prevent animals from inadvertently going back to offenders,” she said.

Work on the animal abuse registry began before Ponce’s Law went into effect, according to Staton, who said County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb has been interested in creating a registry like this for a while.

Animal Services is working to bring this proposal before the County Commission by Nov. 5.

Staton said she believes more awareness about animal abuse and cruelty has led to a public interest in correcting the issue. Neglect tends to be a bigger problem than abuse in Osceola County, said Staton, who estimates that her department files about nine to 12 abuse cases with the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office each year.

The department often works to resolve issues before they become severe by getting custody of some animals if an owner can’t take care of them, and educating pet owners on available resources.

“It may just be a lack of knowledge, so we try to work with those people to get them back on track and then monitor them,” she said. “Not every situation results in us filing a case in court.”