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Since 2006 the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has published an annual report that ranks all U.S. states and territories on their animal protection laws.  These rankings are based on 15 categories, which include: (1) general prohibitions, (2) penalties, (3) exemptions, (4) mental health evaluations and counseling, (5) protective orders, (6) cost mitigation & recovery, (7) seizure/impoundment, (8) forfeiture and post-conviction possession, (9) non-animal agency reporting of suspected animal cruelty, (10) veterinarian reporting of suspected animal cruelty, (11) law enforcement policies, (12) sexual assault, (13) fighting, (14) offender registration, and (15) “ag gag” (anti-whistleblower) legislation.  Over the past five years, nearly 75% of all states and territories experienced what was categorized as a significant improvement in their animal protection laws.  For the past seven years, the top 5 states have remained the same (Illinois, Maine, Oregon, California and Michigan).  Illinois continued to hold the top spot that it held in 2013 and Michigan slipped slightly in the rankings from third to fifth.  The worst five states as ranked by ALDF were Wyoming (46th), Utah (47th), New Mexico (48th), Iowa (49th) and Kentucky (50th).

Achieving a ranking in the Top 5 of the ALDF’s annual report demonstrates that while there are certain changes or upgrades that could be made to strengthen areas of the law as they relate to animal protection or welfare, there are also many areas that are already strong.  For Michigan, the ALDF lists as its existing strengths:

  1. Felony penalties for cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment, and sexual assault
  2. Adequate definitions/standards of basic care
  3. Principal protections apply to most animals
  4. Full range of statutory protections
  5. Increased penalties for repeat animal abusers
  6. Increased penalties for cases involving multiple animals
  7. Pre-sentence mental health evaluations
  8. Permissive court order for counseling/anger management
  9. Permissive cost mitigation measures for impounded animals
  10. Pre-conviction forfeiture allowed
  11. Court may order forfeiture on conviction
  12. Court may order restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals upon conviction
  13. Peace officers have an affirmative duty to enforce animal protection laws
  14. Humane agents have broad law enforcement authority
  15. Strong animal fighting provisions
  16. Animal fighting as RICO predicate offense

Out of the five states ranked in the Top 5, only Illinois, Maine, and Michigan are currently listed as having felony penalties available for cases of cruelty, neglect, fighting, abandonment, and sexual assault.  Michigan’s laws as they relate to cruelty, neglect, and abandonment can be found in MCL 750.50 (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-750-50) with additional information contained in subparts (a) through (c).   Michigan’s law as it relates to fighting can be found in MCL 750.49 (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-750-49).  Lastly, Michigan’s law as it relates to sexual assault can be found in MCL 750.158 (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-750-158).  Depending on the specific crime and the level it rises to based upon a variety of factors and circumstances, the State of Michigan has the ability to sentence an individual to life in prison for their crimes.

In the tables that were included in the ALDF report for the Top 5 states, 14 selected provisions were mentioned.  Of the 14 selected provisions, Michigan was noted as having 10 of the 14 provisions.  The provisions that Michigan did not have checked off were (1) increased penalties when abuse is committed in the presence of a minor; (2) mandatory forfeiture of animals upon conviction; (3) mandatory reporting of suspected cruelty by veterinarians and/or select non-animal-related agencies/professionals; and (4) animals may be included in domestic violence protective orders.

In cases of animal fighting, Michigan does have a mandatory five year ban on owning or possessing an animal but for cases of cruelty, neglect, or abandonment, it is in the court’s discretion whether or not to ban possession or ownership of an animal.  The issue here is that the forfeiture provisions are not mandatory for cases of cruelty, neglect, or abandonment and are instead at the discretion of the court.  As the law currently stands in Michigan, an individual who is found guilty under MCL 750.50(2) for cruelty, neglect, or abandonment may be ordered by the court under MCL 750.50(9) during the term of their probation, to not own or possess an animal for a period of time not to exceed their probation.  It they commit a subsequent violation of MCL 750.50 the court could then order them to not own or possess an animal for any period of time, including permanent relinquishment of animal ownership.  Someone who is found guilty under MCL 750.49, the fighting provision, is by law prohibited from owning or possessing an animal of the same species involved in the violation for five years after the date of sentencing.

MCL 333.18827 protects a veterinarian or veterinary technician from civil or criminal liability for making a report in good faith if they know or reasonably believe that an animal has been abandoned, neglected or abused.  This provision of Michigan law is obviously different than an affirmative duty to report suspected abuse, neglect, or abandonment.  As an example, in Massachusetts, a recently passed law known as the “PAWS Act” (Protecting Animal Welfare and Safety) includes a provision that provides that “[a]ny veterinarian who fails to report such an act of animal cruelty shall be reported to the board of registration in veterinary medicine.”

Michigan has been listed in the Top 5 of the ALDF’s annual report each year that it has been published.  Even though this is a noteworthy achievement, it does not mean that Michigan is without areas for improvement.  The areas that the ALDF listed as having room for potential improvements include:

  1. Increased penalties for offenders with prior domestic violence offenses
  2. Increased penalties when abuse is committed in the presence of a minor
  3. Mandatory terms of incarceration
  4. Protective orders to include animals
  5. Mandatory restitution
  6. Mandatory cost mitigation measures for impounded animals
  7. Mandatory forfeiture of animals on conviction
  8. Mandatory restrictions on future ownership or possession of animals following a conviction
  9. Mandatory reporting of suspected animal cruelty by select non-animal-related agencies and veterinarians
  10. Court-calendared priority when animals are in custody
  11. Animal abuser registry

As one can discern by reading through the list for improvement, there are many provisions that Michigan already has on its books.  The issue from the perspective of the ALDF is that not all of the provisions contained in Michigan’s laws are “mandatory”.  Given the strong correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse, it would make a great deal of sense to include animals under personal protection orders (PPOs).  Likewise, having a registry of animal abusers would greatly assist rescue organizations and shelters in ferreting out any potential adoption applicants that clearly should not be given an animal companion.  It goes without saying that someone who has been convicted of a crime against animals should automatically forfeit his or her right to ever own or possess an animal ever again.  While one would hope that someone charged with caring for animals such as a veterinarian would of his own volition report suspected animal abuse, passing a law to make that an affirmative obligation is the right thing to do.

If you would like to read the ALDF report in its entirety, you can find the report here: http://aldf.org/staterankings/

Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law and Animal Companion Mediation, as well as Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, Business Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.