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NY county to launch first animal abuser registry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sex offender registries are a staple tool nationwide in the United States for keeping track of convicted predators. Now a New York suburb is launching the nation's first animal abuser registry.

Adults in Suffolk County, some 20 miles east of New York City on Long Island, who have been convicted of felonies or high-level misdemeanor crimes against animals now must be listed on an online registry for five years following their conviction.

Prompting the legislation was the case of Sharon McDonough, arrested on charges she tortured and killed as many as 42 dogs and an unknown number of cats in front of her children before burying the animals in her yard.

"Unfortunately, we've had a number of really horrible crimes committed against animals in Suffolk Country. We felt this was information the public should be made aware of," said Jon Cooper, majority leader in the county legislature and main sponsor of the new law, which passed unanimously this month.

McDonough bought and adopted the animals through shelters and pet stores. A second piece of legislation, due to be voted on in December, would require anyone selling or giving away animals for adoption to check the registry beforehand.

The registry could be up and running by the end of the year. It will be funded through private donations as well as a $50 fee paid by each convicted abuser.

According to the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund, the law is the first of its kind in the United States.

Cooper said the law has an added bonus of possibly helping identify people who could become more violent.

"It's known that animal abuse and domestic violence can be related," he said. "This could end up protecting people as well.

"It's well documented that many serial killers start by torturing animals. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz and others all started by torturing animals," he said.

(Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr.; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)