On January 1 of this year, Tennessee established the first state registry of people convicted of animal abuse. Sixteen days later, Michael Henley was convicted of felony cruelty for beating his dog to death with a shoe, and a court clerk added that name as the first registered entry at the beginning of March.
It is not particularly easy to get on the Tennessee list. Securing convictions in animal cases is very difficult in any event, and many defendants “plead down” to a misdemeanor, something that would exempt them from this new registry.
Henley was discovered when his roommate returned home and found blood splattered on the wall of the residence and called authorities. Henley, who had been drinking, claimed he beat the dog for lack of obedience.
“This was heinous. This was awful,” said Jamie McAloon, executive director of the McKamey Animal Center of Chattanooga, a private organization whose mission is centered on advocacy, enforcement, education, and population control ( i.e,. neutering and spaying).
“We have zero tolerance of animal abuse in the City of Chattanooga,” said McAloon. “We’re going to pursue those cases. We’re going to present them for prosecution. Our prosecuting attorney feels the same way and does prosecute these cases.”
Henley was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation — that would have been his only penalty were it not for the registry. As a first offender, his entry is removed after two years.
But the Tennessee law is terribly flawed. Incredibly, Henley will be allowed to keep his own pets or actually obtain new ones.
Support for registries has continued to grow since Tennessee began compiling data. Legislative efforts that stalled or fell short in 2015 have been renewed in Connecticut, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Jersey Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania., while new efforts have begun in Washington State, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Most proposed registries, unlike Tennessee’s, would prevent ownership of animals by anyone appearing on the list, going forward.