Michigan Humane Society is Adopting Out Cats Before Owners Can Find Them

Sonny can be adopted at the MHS Rochester Hills adoption center.

Sonny can be adopted at the MHS Rochester Hills adoption center.

Since legislation was passed in 1969 concerning stray hold times for cats and dogs, licensed animal shelters in the state of Michigan have been adhering to those rules. Shelters who haven’t adhered to the rules had paid fines levied by the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDARD) and have agreed to comply with the state law, including the Saginaw County Animal Shelter who was fined almost $10,000 in 2014 for many violations, including not following the stray hold laws.

The stray hold laws for cats and dogs were written within the legislation entitled “The Use of Dogs and Cats for Research” in 1969 under Act 224 of 1969. MCL 287.388 Sec. 8. The law allows a pet owner to have the time to find a lost pet at an animal shelter by requiring the shelters to hold onto stray animals without ID for four days and stray animals with ID for seven days.

In a letter dated October 21, 2014 (click here: mhs-volunteer-email), the Michigan Humane Society notified their volunteers about their new cat holding practice. In it they said they would still hold cats with traceable identification for seven days while they attempt to contact the owner. They also said that “untreatable” cats would be held for at least four days. However, if a cat is a candidate for placement and has no ID, they will evaluate that cat and move it up for adoption “immediately – no holding period.” They went on to say that they believe this will decrease the instance of cats getting sick in their care and increase their placement of cats. Their change of policy goes against the state law and numerous letters sent out to animal shelters by the MDARD about stray hold requirements for animal shelters. It means that anyone who loses a friendly and healthy cat who happens to end up at a Michigan Humane Society animal shelter has little chance of getting their cat back because they will go up for adoption immediately.

In a memo from Assistant Attorney General, David Silver, on December 29, 1987 to Robert Muir, Assistant State Veterinarian the stray hold provision is explained as follows by Silver: “the purpose of this provision is to allow time for a rightful owner to come forward and claim the animal.” He goes on to say “it is my judgment that MCL 287.388 is best read to mean that each facility that acquires an animal is required to hold it four days prior to disposition.”

State Veterinarian James Averill, as recently as December 22, 2014, sent out a letter to all animal shelters to once again clarify the holding times for dogs and cats at registered animal shelters in Michigan, calling them “requirements.” In addition to other areas that are outlined, Averill reiterates that the stray hold laws for cats and dogs without ID is four days and cats and dogs with ID is seven days. He states that holding times apply to dogs and cats that are stray or running at large (not owner surrendered animals who can be adopted or killed immediately – or ill or injured animals whose holding would cause undue suffering).

He continues, “animal control shelters have a responsibility for the care of animals that are found in the streets or at large.” He states that there are no state laws requiring cats to be kept on a leash or under the control of their owner, although there might be local requirements. He goes on to say that while there are no state requirements that mandate that an animal control pick up and hold cats, if they do, the holding times need to be followed. He concludes the notice by saying that the holding times and operations of animal control date back to 1939 and 1969 and that “MDARD expects animal control shelters and animal protection shelters to comply with the statutory holding times.” The letter is below:


On January 26th, the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) went public with their explanation of why they think they have the authority to adopt out stray health cats immediately to the public in this blog by MHS President and CEO Matthew Pepper. You can read the blog here. Pepper’s justification for not holding on to stray cats for their owners is in his statement, “MHS does not and would never sell animals to research, and as such, is not subject to the referenced holding time for cats.”

This interpretation of state law goes against all public statements made by the MDARD and precedents set by the state by enforcing the statute outside of its relationship to cats and dogs who are used in research.

Additionally, there are two other issues that should be looked at in regards to MHS adopting out cats immediately…

1. Property Laws

Any person or animal shelter who finds itself with a stray cat or dog would logically assume that it is lost “property” of an individual. Animal shelters understand this is to be true because the state mandates them to notify an owner if the pet has identification as well as keep an accounting of incoming animals (breed, sex, location found, etc.). So we have to ask ourselves, if the identification of the pet is missing, does that make the “property” any less owned by a person and does it relieve the “finder” of the responsibility of holding onto the property for a certain amount of time so the owner can be found before that “property” is resold? A few years ago in Pennsylvania, a person sold their neighbor’s dog on the internet and were charged for not making a reasonable effort to return loss property. How is that any different than an animal shelter doing the same thing? Does the animal shelter not have to comply with any laws in Michigan regarding finding lost property? It stands to reason that any pet owner who finds out that an animal shelter sold their pet before holding on to it for the state mandated time would have a case against the shelter for selling their property as well as not complying with the stray hold laws of the state.

2. Local Ordinances

Many counties, cities and townships have their own animal ordinances that deal with cats, dogs and other animals within their jurisdiction. Is MHS in violation of any of their ordinances by adopting out stray cats without holding on to them? In the case of Canton Charter Township in Wayne County, that appears to be the case as they have their own stray hold statute that says a cat or dog has to be held for no less than five days. Two Michigan Humane Society animal shelters, the Detroit Adoption Center and the Berman Center for Animal Care, operate in Wayne County. Is MHS asking people who drop off stray cats what township they found them in or documenting the ones picked up by animal control by township and county so that local stray hold ordinances are followed?

The MDARD says that they are looking into complaints about MHS not adhering to the stray hold laws of the state. Averill’s office responded to a citizen’s question about this by saying, “It appears MHS no longer intends to comply with the hold time requirements for unidentified, adoptable cats. MDARD’s Animal Industry Division (AID) has traditionally supported holding times for dogs and cats at registered animal shelters in Michigan so that these animals have ample opportunity to be reunited with the owners. Be advised that our Division has been made aware of the matter and we are exploring the issue with due diligence.” MDARD also responded to Pet Friends Magazine by saying, “MDARD is communicating with MHS and have provided correspondence outlining holding requirements.”

Pet Friends Magazine has sent a letter to Attorney General, Bill Schuette, to get further clarification on the stray hold laws but the response wasn’t available at the time of the publication of this article. Any information from his office will be added to this story and updated as soon as the information is received.

One obvious question to be asked is: Why should the Michigan Humane Society be any different than any other animal shelter in Michigan that has to comply with the laws of the state concerning animal shelter requirements? And if it’s not, every other animal shelter in Michigan now has the right to adopt out (and kill) any dog or cat it wants without adhering to any stray hold periods.

Another question to be considered is: Why should the Michigan Humane Society’s bad RTO rate (return to owner) and sicknesses among the cats in their care be an excuse to adopt out people’s cats? Shouldn’t they be looking into how they can be more proactive in returning cats to their owners – and ask themselves why so many animals are getting sick in their shelters? Their website says that they have found homes for 100% of the healthy dogs and cats in their care. However, they have some of the highest kill statistics in our state. Licensed Michigan animal shelters have to report their intake and euthanasia information to the state every year. For the year 2013, the MHS report showed that they took in 6,459 cats and killed 2,272 of them. That is a very high number of “unhealthy” cats to be in an animal shelter. The number of cats killed in previous years are even worse. In 2012, they took in 11,804 cats and killed 7,474 of them. Why are so many cats “unhealthy” at MHS and what is their definition of “healthy and adoptable”? Is there are problem with providing treatment for sick cats – or upgrades that need to be made to the buildings so that less cats get sick?

The percentage of cats returned to their owners by MHS is dismal. Pepper admits in his blog, “Less than 1% of stray cats without identification are reunited with their owner – an extremely sad reality.” Out of 6,459 cats taken into their shelter in 2013, only 45 were returned to their owner. That’s an extremely low number. The Roscommon County Animal Shelter only took in 444 cats in 2013 but was able to return 41 of them to their owners. Instead of adopting out people’s cats as a solution to this problem, MHS needs to be more proactive in networking their lost pets and getting them returned to their owners.

On the horizon to add even more clarification to stray hold laws and make some changes to animal legislation is House Bill No. 5095 which will be re-introduced soon. It is a bill to amend 1969 PA 287 which is the all-encompassing legislation that regulates pet shops, dog pounds and animal shelters. In this new bill, one of the many things it does is spell out the holding period for cats and dogs and how those days are counted with a minimum holding time for stray cats and dogs with ID to be seven days and strays without ID to be four days. Additionally, it also provides new guidelines and limits to those operating large-scale dog breeding kennels in our state. You can read HB 5095 here. Humane organizations across the state support this legislation to license and regulate large-scale dog breeding facilities and to prevent inhumane puppy mills from moving into Michigan and look forward to the re-introduction of this legislation to protect Michigan pets.

A petition has started to protect Michigan’s Lost pets and to ask Governor Snyder to stop the Michigan Humane Society from breaking the law on holding times for stray pets. You can find that petition here.

If you don’t agree with the new cat holding policies of MHS and would like to contact them, their general email address is here mail@michiganhumane.org and their Facebook page is here.


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2 thoughts on “Michigan Humane Society is Adopting Out Cats Before Owners Can Find Them

  1. Michele Simons February 2, 2015 at 9:14 pm Reply

    Now they hopefully have a director who has balls to follow the law. Hope she does. Michele

    Pet Friends Magazine News • Events • Adoptab

  2. Cheryl February 2, 2015 at 9:32 pm Reply

    MHS must be investigated and be required to have an independent comprehensive assessment of the organization. They have been killing healthy and treatable animals for decades. They are a public charity and must be held accountable and be transparent to their donors who make donations to SAVE lives.

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