About 76,000 stray cats ended up at Michigan Animal Shelters in 2014. If legislators have their way and Michigan House Bill No. 4915 is passed, when your healthy and friendly cat winds up in a Michigan animal shelter, that shelter will be able to adopt your cat out as soon as it enters their building. With an understaffed Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDARD) and animal shelters who don’t want to put in the time and money to save animals, it’s no surprise that they’ve gotten together to make life easier for them – but worse for pets and their owners.
After consulting with MDARD and the Michigan Humane Society (who already appears to violate current state law by adopting out healthy and adoptable cats immediately), Rep. Mike McCready introduced HB 4915 in September of 2015.
Pet owners are already at a disadvantage of not knowing animal shelter laws and how many days an animal shelter is required to hold onto their lost pet. Currently, animal shelters are required to hold onto cats and dogs for four days if they don’t have identification and seven days if they do. These hold times have been confirmed to me several times in emails and letters from MDARD as well as confirmed in a memo from Attorney General David Silver in 1987. Furthermore, in the past, before MDARD consulted with McCready, the current State Veterinarian, Dr. James Averill stated in an email to me that “MDARD has consistently enforced these holding times in order to give owners a chance to find their animals before they are sold for research, adopted to a new owner, euthanized or otherwise disposed of.” A letter from Dr. Averill dated December 22, 2014 states that they expect shelters to comply with these stay hold laws.
HB 4915 contains many changes to current legislation that animal advocates find disturbing. According to a recent Facebook post by Nathan Winograd, an author, film-maker, animal advocate and director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, Michigan House Bill No. 4915 “would allow animal shelters to ‘own’ someone’s cat immediately upon impound if the cat comes in without identification. That means even if you come to the shelter that very day to reclaim your cat and your cat is there, they will not have to give you the cat back. They can make the cat available for adoption to someone else. They can sterilize the cat and release him anywhere in your city (its ‘community of origin’ rather than more protective ‘location where they were found’). Or, eventually, they can kill your cat. House Bill No. 4915 would change state law to reduce the holding period for cats, at the discretion of the shelter, from four days to ‘zero days’ if the cat has no identification and the cat ‘is a candidate for adoption or a sterilization release program.’ Note that the language does not say that the cat must actually be ‘sterilized and released’ or actually ‘adopted,’ merely that the cat is ‘a candidate’ for it. The way this bill is currently written means that once the holding period has passed — which in this case is ‘zero days’ — ‘ownership of the animal transfers’ to the shelter and their families lose all rights to them.”
Winograd continues, “As if that is not enough, the bill also says there is no holding period (meaning animals can be killed right away) if subjecting animals to a holding period would result in ‘undue suffering,’ a vague and discretionary term that is undefined and will lead to countless preventable deaths (such as for community cats who are not social with humans or pet cats who act ‘feral’ on impound due to fear), as well as for all animals who are surrendered by their families (they can continue to be marched from the front counter to the kill room without ever being offered for adoption).” Editor’s Note: Shelters can make judgements on your pet’s medical conditions without a vet even seeing that pet in person as what happened in the case of Baylee.
Winograd has written the legislative author and the Committee hearing the bill and asked for changes that will meet the goal of promoting sterilization and release, increasing adoptions, reducing deaths, and shortening length of stay, while also protecting families. Additionally, other groups such as Mi-PACA, Best Friends Animal Society legislative attorney Richard Angelo, and Michigan Pet Fund Alliance are also working on changes to the bill to give to the Committee.
Winograd says, “Breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind is draconian. HB 4915 loses sight of what, in fact, is one of the primary functions and mandates of a taxpayer funded, municipal animal shelter: to provide a safe haven for the lost animals of local people and a place where they can go to find them.”
Many animal advocates in Michigan oppose the law as written including Mi-PACA. “You only need to look to the best-performing shelters in our state to see that a zero-day hold period is unnecessary and certainly not in the best interest of cats and not in the best interest of cat owners,” said Courtney Protz-Sanders, board trustee for Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals (Mi-PACA). “There are numerous ways for shelters to improve shelter conditions and to reduce stress on animals, which in turn reduces stress-induced illnesses. HB 4915 is the lazy shelter’s dream. It allows them to put forth no effort to save lives and allows them to dispose of cats as quickly as possible. Shelter directors who support this line of thinking need to find another line of work. Shelters exist to provide a safe haven for lost, abused and displaced pets. When shelters are instead turned into holding facilities and kill camps, we’ve monumentally lost sight of the purpose of animal shelters.”
Additional organizations have weighed in regarding HB 4915 with the following comments…
The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance Board of Directors:
The Board supports a four-day stray hold for cats the same as dogs with shelter ownership effective after the hold period. A zero hold is supported for cats that are spayed/neutered and returned to location of pick-up.They take this position because:
1. Lost cat owners should be afford the same opportunity as dog owners to get their cat back and four days is reasonable.
2. Spay/Neuter and return to where they were found (not community) has a 60% chance of reuniting lost cats with the owner if the cat is domesticated, and reduces the vacuum effect if the cat is feral.
3. Shelters that follow best practices in standards of care have repeatedly demonstrated that cats remain healthy in shelters.
Debbie Schutt, Michigan Pet Fund Alliance Chair says, “Cats are not second class pets. In fact there are more cats as pets in Michigan than dogs. Cat owners should be afforded the same rights by their government or not for profit shelter to get their lost cat back when it enters a shelter as a dog. We acknowledge the benefits of Trap/Neuter/Return in owners findings their lost cats or controlling the feral population and only for those shelters following this best practice should a no hold be permitted Those that insist a zero hold for adoptable cats is needed because shelters stress cast and they become ill requiring treatment need to take a lesson from those shelters that don’t have this problem. Cats have different needs than dogs and it is imperative that shelters address their needs – – – the answer is not to get them out the door or kill them before they become ill, the answer is to implement best practices in standards of care.”
Tanya Hilgendorf, president of Huron Valley Humane, says, “I think the concerns are correct about lost cats not getting back home and too many cats getting sick and being euthanized in shelters, but the cure is misguided. HSHV has a return rate of 11% for cats and 50% for dogs because as a stray hold facility we believe our first obligation is to get lost pets back home. There are other places that have even better rates than that. We can and should always be striving to do better. That requires creativity, and challenging old ways of thinking and doing. Of course everyone agrees with the goal of saving lives, but in serving lost companion animals, our practices should also be underscored by respect for the human animal bond. Our animals are a part of our family. If one of my cats was taken to a shelter and immediately adopted out, lost to us forever, our family would be devastated. Likewise, my cat doesn’t want any home. She wants to be home with us, the humans and other animals she loves.”
She continues, “Further, it is not inevitable that a cat will get sick in a shelter. It depends entirely on the quality of care. We have just a 3% upper respiratory rate for cats. Sickness comes from stress, and improper sanitation, handling and housing. High illness rates is the best sign that animals are not being well cared for. Our obligation, as places of refuge, should be to provide quality animal welfare. Most of us are in this business because we love animals. But we also need to work from a standpoint of understanding that animals are sentient beings, like us, but that each species has unique needs and each individual animal as has an additional set of more specific needs based on their history, personality and condition. All of our decisions should be made with those things in mind.
If we as an industry are saying just four days in our care will make a healthy friendly cat so sick that we will have to kill them, then we need to take a very serious look at ourselves. That is a shameful statement. What other industry gets away with doing their jobs so poorly? I believe this continues because those we serve can’t speak out for themselves or “vote with their feet.” They have no choice in the matter. The animal sheltering industry needs stricter standards and better oversight – not cheap ways of avoiding our responsibilities.There are just too many excuses. Government-run animal controls often don’t want to pay for what it actually costs to responsibly and ethically care for an animal, get them home or find them a new one – even though that is clearly what the public wants. And many private shelters are similar – saying they simply can’t afford to do better. I fully understand and appreciate the challenges, but as they say, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ We as a profession should be setting an example for the public on respecting animals and providing quality care – not being the last place on earth an animal would want to go. We can and should do better.”
Jill Fritz, Michigan State Director of the HSUS, says, “The HSUS supports holding periods that maximize opportunities for increasing live outcomes for more animals, such as zero day holding for adoptions, transfer to other shelters/rescues for placement, or shelter-neuter-return efforts for healthy cats with no owner identification. Currently, it is estimated that only about 2 to 5% of cats entering shelters are reclaimed by their owners, and approximately 70% of cats entering shelters nationally are euthanized. Such an approach protects cats with any form of identification from being released to transfer or adoption early and protects all cats from euthanasia prior to the expiration of the full holding period. To avoid confusion, holding periods should ideally be universally applied throughout the state, without respect to the type of animal welfare entity involved.”
The Michigan Humane Society and the the Dept. of Agriculture were contacted for comment but neither organization responded.
It seems unimaginable that our state government has decided that if you have a friendly cat that gets lost without his or her ID, your local animal shelter is allowed to give it away or put it through a medical procedure without your permission. It’s also unimaginable that cats are being treated differently than dogs in the House Bill because shelters don’t reunite cats with their owners as frequently as they do with dogs. Pet owners have a right to have a reasonable time period to reclaim their pet. We are not debating a piece of jewelry or a CD player. We are talking about a family member who is lost. The fact that the reclaim rates of cats is dismally low does not mean that our pet ownership rights should be dissolved.
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