MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. California pioneered the use of a database for convicted sexual predators. Now, the state may do something similar for animal abusers.
Lawmakers there are considering a bill that would establish a statewide animal cruelty registry. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, one case of extreme cruelty near Los Angeles is helping drive the measure.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: After several days of rain, the view from Armintrout Drive in Riverside County is splendid. As wind rustles the tall grass in the ravine just below us, Jeff Toole is pointing out his former home.
Mr. JEFF TOOLE: We shared this common driveway here, which goes about three-quarters of the way up to our houses, and then we kind of V off. He goes to the left, and I go to the right.
BATES: He is Toole's ex-neighbor, former assistant Los Angeles County fire chief Glynn Johnson. Toole says Johnson, in a fit of rage and in front of witnesses, savagely beat the Toole family's six-month-old German shepherd mix, Karley, pummeling her with a large rock. Toole recalls the puppy's condition when they found her barely alive, huddled in the bushes near their home.
Mr. TOOLE: It was horrific. I mean, she had numerous skull fractures, crushed nasal passage, ear canal crushed, broken jaw. Most of - a good percentage of her teeth were busted out - horrendous.
BATES: The damage was so great, Karley was euthanized. Johnson was convicted of felony animal cruelty and now faces up to four years in prison. Shelley Toole says her family moved from their dream home shortly after Johnson was arrested.
Ms. SHELLY TOOLE: We were afraid of what he might do to us after this happened and charges were filed against him.
BATES: The Tooles were right to be concerned, says Randall Lockwood, a forensic scientist at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Lockwood says animal abuse is often a precursor to violence towards humans.
Mr. RANDALL LOCKWOOD (Forensic Scientist, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): Particularly the connections between animal abuse and domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, as well as general, criminal and antisocial behavior.
BATES: Lockwood notes that FBI profilers have long recognized that serial killers have a history of abusing animals: Jeffrey Dahmer, the Son of Sam and the so-called BTK killer all had animal abuse in their backgrounds.
California State Senator Dean Florez introduced a bill that, if passed, would create a mandatory state registry for animal abusers, much like the national database that exists for sexual predators.
State Senator DEAN FLOREZ (Democrat, California): We're talking about things like violence, torture, mutilation, intentional killing of animals, sexual abuse with animals.
BATES: More and more states are enacting increasingly stringent animal protection laws. Not long ago, only four states had some kind of anti-cruelty statute, now 46 do. Psychologist Lockwood says politicians have paid attention as more and more connections are made between animal abuse and human abuse.
Mr. LOCKWOOD: So we have much stronger laws available to us now, going after animal cruelty, and I think that is partly due to the perception and recognition in the general public and the law enforcement and mental health communities that this connection is real and is quite strong.
BATES: The city of West Hollywood has gone even further. It established a legal code of rights for pets, which are referred to as companion animals who live with human guardians. Animal abusers there face some of the stiffest punishment in the nation.
City councilman John Duran says the stronger penalties for animal abuse indicate the law is catching up to society's changing values.
Councilman JOHN DURAN (West Hollywood, California): Just as we've learned, I think, to sort of respect our planet and to think green, we're also starting to see animals as not just property, not as just something to be owned or possessed for human beings' pleasure, but a separate, individual creature that inhabits this earth just as we do.
BATES: And who, many people have begun to believe, have some of the same basic rights as their human counterparts. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.