SAGINAW COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER
Imagine your senior dog gets loose and wanders away from home. He is blind and has a tumor on his belly. You search desperately to find him, looking around the neighborhood and on the internet. You post information about him online on the lost and found sites. Seven hours after the search begins, you see his photo on the internet. Someone has found him and your local county-run animal shelter, the Saginaw County Animal Shelter, has your dog. He is SAFE. Or so you think. You go first thing in the morning to pick up your dog, the little bundle of fur that has lived with your family for 11 years, only to find out that your tax-payer funded animal shelter has killed your dog. In fact, they killed him one hour and twenty-five minutes after picking him up even though there is a stray hold law in Michigan that says they must hold onto stray animals without identification for four days. They have broken the law and broken your heart. This happened to Laurie Lamberth’s Cocker Spaniel, Baylee, in June of this year.
Saginaw County’s excuse for killing the dog can be found in Michigan’s animal law MCL 287.388 Section 8. This law states that there is an exception to the stray hold law if an animal is “sick or injured to the extent that the holding period would cause undue suffering.” But that paragraph was never intended to be used to allow an Animal Control Officer (with no veterinarian’s license) to make a judgement call on whether your pet is too old or disabled or too un-groomed to live. It was meant for pets who have gotten shot, have been in dogfights, gotten hit by cars, have Parvo or are sick or injured to the point of truly suffering. These are instances that humane Michigan animal shelters consider when euthanizing a pet before there is time to find an owner.
Even though Saginaw County’s animal control policy manual clearly states that….”employees should not allow personal beliefs or opinion to affect the enforcement of the laws we are charged with upholding” there is evidence in the county’s paperwork that shows opinions on Baylee and his situation was most likely was used as justification to kill him.
Officer Thompson, who picked up the dog, wrote in the incident report that a tumor that size is “cruelty.” Thompson also made a judgement about the fact that he thought the dog had been dropped off with no ID even though there was no evidence to support this assessment. The shelter director, Leeann Ridley has said on record that Baylee’s euthanasia was based on the overall condition of the animal and that letting Baylee’s condition to continue would be considered, “animal cruelty” even though no animal cruelty investigation was ever done.
It becomes apparent, after looking through information from the County, that because the dog was a stray, state law was not followed when making the determination to kill Baylee. In his own words, Saginaw county’s shelter Veterinarian Dr. John Peters of the Cole Veterinary Hospital made the statement, “I feel badly and had the dog had identification this situation would not have happened”. However, the state law makes no distinction between a stray or identified animal on how they are to be treated when deciding if they are suffering and need euthanasia. One is not supposed to get better or worse treatment than the other. Furthermore, Dr. Peters didn’t bother to go to the animal shelter to examine the dog in person. In fact, even though the Saginaw County’s policy book states that an animal must be given an exam within 24 hours of intake, there was no documentation released by the County that shows that they checked Baylee’s respiration, pulse/heart rate, gum color or hydration status. There was also no documentation about temperament. The people who found Baylee, found him to be friendly, with his tail wagging. Not exactly the picture of a dog who is in pain and suffering.
Dr. Peters made an assessment on the dog’s condition, over the phone, based on the shelter’s description of an old dog who was blind with a tumor. The intake form on Bayle states “Stray dog that they found on Next Road. Dog is blind in both eyes and has a tumor that is size of cantaloupe. Okay to euth per Dr. order.”
Had Ridley and the shelter followed state law, they would have found out that Baylee’s tumor, which the dog has had for two years, was not cancerous but that Lamberth did not have the money to remove it. Lamberth and her veterinarian decided to monitor the tumor’s growth. It was big but hadn’t grown in about a year. Neither a non-cancerous tumor nor old age nor blindness falls into the category of “undue suffering” if the dog was held for four days – yet personal opinions on the part of Thompson, Ridley and Dr. Peters seems to have doomed the dog to death without a personal veterinarian examination or adherence to the state’s stray hold laws.
Ignoring stray hold laws seems to be a pattern for this shelter who was was fined a year ago by the Department of Agriculture for non-compliance. They had repeatedly ignored stray hold laws 83 times. That is 83 pets whose owners never got the chance to claim their family member.
After reviewing their policies, the office of County Controller Robert Belleman concluded that the animal control staff violated no state laws or county policies. However, in the future, they are going to take an animal to the vet if it’s to be euthanized before a stray hold is up. They are also going to require the Animal Control Officers canvas the neighborhoods surrounding where the animal was picked up if they are considering euthanasia. In the meantime, there is an investigation into this case by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the community continues to be outraged by what is happening to animals at this animal shelter.
MICHIGAN HUMANE SOCIETY
The Michigan Humane Society (MHS) is still interpreting the stray hold laws of Michigan in a way that justifies the immediate adoption of healthy and adoptable stray cats to the public without holding them for four days so owners can reclaim their pets.
As reported in February, the MHS claims that because the stray hold law is listed under the legislation called “The Use of Dogs and Cats for Research”, they do not have to follow the stray hold law since they aren’t using the animals for research.
In 1987, Assistant Attorney General, David Silver, made it clear that “the purpose of this provision is to allow time for a rightful owner to come forward and claim the animal. It is my judgement 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.” Because the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture has fined animal shelters for not adhering to their stray hold policies, the precedent is clear that the State of Michigan interprets the law to cover all animal shelter pets in the state and not just those used for research. Pet Friends Magazine is currently awaiting for additional clarification on the law from the current Attorney General, Bill Schuette.
Additionally, as you can see above, MHS is also currently documenting strays that they handle for the City of Detroit under the City of Detroit’s statistics and not their own. What that means is that in the County of Wayne, MHS is housing and deciding the fates of stray animals, however the 2383 dogs and 1244 cats killed in 2014 are listed under euthanasias for the City of Detroit and not MHS. That makes the number of animals killed by MHS appear to have gone down. There has been no response from the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture regarding this information and why it was allowed to be changed from past years reporting.
OAKLAND COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROL AND PET ADOPTION CENTER
According to MI-PACA (Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals) whistleblowers have alleged that owner surrendered pets at the Oakland County animal shelter were fraudulently reclassified as “owner requested euthanasias” when the shelter needed to kill them. Owner surrendered animals are different than owner requested euthanasias. Owner surrendered animals are pets that owners can no longer take care of and they feel they must relinquish to an animal shelter. They are hopeful that the animal can be adopted, however most don’t know that owner surrenders can be killed at any time – the shelter isn’t required to hold onto them for any period of time. Owner requested euthanasias are pets that owners bring into the shelter for the purpose of euthanasia. Shelters might have criteria for this (sick or injured) or might not. Not all animal shelters will do these kinds of euthanizations.
If you are wondering why an animal shelter would want to change the records in this way, it is most likely to make their county’s euthanasia numbers look better. Pet Friends Magazine and the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance both compute save rates and euthanasia statistics each year and other media is also reporting the number of shelter animals killed more openly. Owner requested euthanasias are not counted by these two groups because animal shelters shouldn’t be held accountable for these kinds of euthanasias. By reclassifying these pets as owner requested euthanasias, the county makes it look like they are not “responsible” for killing so many pets and the public is under the false assumption that their kill numbers have actually gone down.
The information provided above from a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) is courtesy of MI-PACA and shows that the owners who surrendered their pets did not request them to be killed. They even provided information to the new owner. Some of these animals were held for adoption, others had vaccinations or nail clippings and tests done – not something an animal shelter would spend money on if the owner asked for their pet to be euthanized.
The 2014 Michigan Dept. of Agriculture shelter report for Oakland shows that 769 pets were requested to be put down by their owners. That’s a fairly substantial number that jumps out in comparison to most other animal shelters (except for Berrien who lists 1313 pets requested to be killed by owners – another high number that needs to be looked into). In fact, Oakland County killed more dogs from owner requested euthanasias than they killed in their own shelter. MI-PACA reports that an investigation is currently open with the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture about the county’s shelter reports.
This recent story here underscores another sad reality of what is happening to owner surrendered pets and the heartbreak of finding out that a pet has been killed even though an owner was told it would be put up for adoption if it’s healthy and adoptable.
The shelter is not being transparent in telling the owners what the criteria is for being a “healthy and adoptable” pet. In another news report, they state that they will not make that information available to the public at the shelter or on their website. Oakland County Director of Public Services Mark Newman said, “It is not something we disseminate to the public, but it is our information.”
I think that this county has forgotten that they operate a PUBLIC shelter and all information is public. They are tax-payer funded. All policies and rules are to be released to the public when asked for. Unfortunately, most people don’t know that they have a right to FOIA the information from their county – and don’t know how to do so. The fact that Oakland County is not being transparent with their policies is disturbing.
For the record, their policies state that the following pets are deemed untreatable and unhealthy (and will be killed if surrendered by their owners in these conditions):
1. Have a behavioral, temperamental or medical characteristic that would pose a danger to other animals, themselves or the public.
2. Are suffering from a disease, injury or a congenital or hereditary condition that adversely affects the animal’s current health or is likely to adversely affect the animal’s health in the future.
3. Are under the age of eight weeks and are not likely to become healthy with medical or foster care.
4. A condition that may not necessitate a UU classification on its own, when present in combination with other medical or behavioral issues, may lead to this designation. In addition, animals with a poor prognosis, protracted painful recovery, incurable debilitating illness, are non-responsive to treatment and/or if treatment is not reasonably available, are candidates for this classification.
WEXFORD COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER
After doing a FOIA request, Pet Friends Magazine found that Wexford County had three stray hold violations in 2014 and three quarantine violations. That number is far less than in the past but it’s still an ongoing issue that should be addressed.
How many more violations are out there at other animal shelters? How many shelters who have already been fined for violations are continuing to repeat the same problems? Unless there are people out there willing to FOIA their animal shelter’s information, these violations will continue to be unreported and unpunished.
MISSING ANIMAL SHELTER REPORTS
When Pet Friends Magazine compiles the yearly statistics on the number of animals being killed at Northern Lower Michigan Animal Shelters, there are always reports missing from the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture’s website. Antrim County, in particular, hasn’t submitted a report in at least three years, however there is no indication that this shelter – or any others – have been fined.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture’s website says that “Michigan registered animal shelters are REQUIRED to annually report their animal statistics for the prior year by March 31st of the subsequent year.” These statistics are a portion of the record keeping required by Act 287 of 1969. However, there is no information on fines or punishments for animal shelters who do not comply with these regulations.
There are 158 shelter reports on Michigan Dept. of Agriculture’s website for the year of 2014. However, there are 185 shelters listed as being regulated by the State of Michigan. What, if anything, is being done about the 27 animal shelters who aren’t complying with the law?
WHAT CAN YOU DO???
The unfortunate reality is that the Department of Agriculture will not investigate animal shelter violations without a complaint being filed. That means it’s up to you, the taxpayer and animal advocate, to actually monitor your local animal shelter – and report any wrongdoing.
How do you fight for change at your local animal shelter?
1. FOIA your county shelter’s information. You can ask for intake and euthanasia information and calculate how long they have kept each animal in their shelter before it was euthanized. The first day of intake is not counted, as aren’t holidays and weekends. If you find violations, contact the media – and report your findings to the Michigan Department of Agriculture. You can also FOIA budget information and request policy manuals as well as any other documentation that the county uses for animal sheltering.
2. Join an advocacy group to make your local shelter better. If your county doesn’t have an advocacy group, start one. If your shelter is doing right by the animals, they still need help. Think about volunteering or starting a “friends of” the shelter Facebook page to network their animals and help them reunite lost pets with their owners. Here is a short list of some advocacy groups for some of the counties listed in the stories above:
3. Get involved with your local animal shelter where the decisions are made – the government. Your County or City runs the animal shelter – either through the Sheriff’s Department or the Health Department. The County Commissioners (elected officials) are the ones who decide the budgets and policies, the hiring and firing of directors, etc. If you are unhappy with the way your government animal shelter is operated, go to the Commissioners meetings. They are usually held once a month. If you can’t get on the agenda, you can still speak during the public comment time. You should call your local government office to see when the comments are allowed (usually at the beginning or end of the meetings) and ask how long you will be able to talk. These government shelters should be ran humanely, efficiently and should be a good steward of public funds.