Animals need more rights, and their abusers need to be subject to tougher statewide laws, including an animal abuse registry, eighth-grade students from Rio Rancho’s Cyber Academy say.

As part of a school project about local and state government, some Cyber Academy students are taking their animal registry concept to the next Legislature in January. They said they’ve already contacted some local legislators about it.

The name of students’ project is Project Citizen, a national program from the We The People Program, based in California. The program trains students to advocate for laws they think are necessary. It shows students how to change and make policy.

The students made a presentation to the Rio Rancho Governing Body on May 9 and said the animal abuse registry would be somewhat like a sex offender registry.

Current state statutes are vague, the students said. In their proposal, students say the law should provide for six months in jail for a first-time animal abuser, 12 months for the second offense and 18 months for a third-timer.

Included in those penalties would be fines of up to $5,000 for the first-time offender, $7,500 for the second offense and $10,000 for the third offense.

The students understand that the legislators will have the final say in “penalties.” However, they are very serious about their cause.

Many other states are also enacting animal abuse laws, the students said. One problem in New Mexico is that each jurisdiction — cities and counties — seems to have its own set of animal-abuse laws.

The students also are asking that reptiles be protected through state animal laws.

Students took the animal laws that are in action at the state level and in Rio Rancho and Corrales and reworked them to be more inclusive and understandable, said Linda Rhodes, an instructor at the Cyber Academy. The students thought that some were too extreme and they reduced consequences, Rhodes said. Florida has been doing a lot of work on the animal abuse registry, she said. 

One of the students, Trinity Medley, really had the idea for the animal abuse registry and got Cyber Academy discussing it, Rhodes said. 

The nation’s first animal abuse registry was formed in 2010 in Suffolk County (Long Island), New York. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 1.5 million New Yorkers and their animals gained more protection from repeat offenders through the new law.

The New York law is designed to keep convicted abusers away from animals. It will require adults living in Suffolk County who have been convicted of animal abuse crimes to register on an online registry for five years following their convictions.

According to its website, aldf.org, the Animal Legal Defense Fund launched a national campaign to promote abuser registry legislation in February 2010. The website exposeanimalabusers.org provides information about registry bills and allows concerned citizens to contact their own legislators in support of abuser registries.

Such registries will help protect animals, pet guardians and communities by preventing repeat offenses from anyone with an established history of abusing animals. Registry bills have been introduced in six states, and legislators in more than a dozen states are currently considering supporting their introduction.