The State of Michigan is No Longer Enforcing Stray Hold Periods for Lost Pets in Animal Shelters

A stray cat named Sarah at the Antrim County Animal Shelter.

A stray cat named Sarah at the Antrim County Animal Shelter.

In a letter sent out by the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDARD) on January 19, 2016, James Averill, State Veterinarian and Division Director of the Animal Industry Division, stated that the MDARD does not have the authority to enforce Public Act 224 which outlines holding times for stray animals in shelters, time that allows a pet’s owner to reclaim their lost cat or dog.

This statement was a result of a challenge by the Michigan Humane Society who questioned whether the hold times applied to animal shelters who did not sell animals for research because the stray hold rules were written into that research section in 1969.

For the past 47 years, animal shelters have followed the stray hold guidelines of holding onto a stray cat or dog for four days if there was no identification and seven days if there was. After that time, it was up to the animal shelter as to whether that pet would be euthanized or put up for adoption. Since 1969, MDARD has enforced those holding times as the department that oversees animal shelters in the state of Michigan.

MDARD relied on the broad application of Public Act 224 for the legal authority to enforce holding periods, however they will no longer enforce hold periods unless a shelter is engaged in activity clearly falling within the act (i.e. the sale of dogs or cats for research). MDARD is encouraging counties, cities and other municipalities to continue to hold all dogs and cats at animal control shelters or private protection shelters according to the standards set in Public Act 224 – and to write their own hold periods into their local ordinances.

Mi-PACA, a Political Action Committee for Animals, consulted six animal law attorneys and five of them agreed that without holding times in place, lost property statutes would apply. That means that animal shelters would have to keep the lost animal for a six month period.

Mi-PACA says, “Absent the state law that MDARD is no longer enforcing, shelters are now required to follow the same Lost Property statutes that citizens and rescues must follow, which is required reporting to law enforcement and a six-month hold. Cities, townships and villages in which an animal shelter operates must now introduce and pass local ordinances mandating reasonable stray hold laws; otherwise, those shelters are subject to the six-month holds required by Act 273 of 1987 (specifically Section 434.24), Michigan’s Lost Property statute. Companion animals are classified as ‘property of major value.’ All property of major value shall be returned to the legal owner when the law enforcement agency is reasonably satisfied of that ownership. If the legal owner is not located and after six months from the date of the notice as prescribed in section 5, the property shall be disposed of pursuant to this act.”

Will this decision by MDARD result in lawsuits by pet owners whose dogs or cats get killed or adopted out before the six month period? Will this decision by MDARD be a green light for the bad shelters in our state to kill even more pets – and not even give pet owners time to find their lost cat or dog?

What can you do? Here are some suggestions given by Mi-PACA:

1. Contact Representative McCready and ask that HB 4915 be amended to allow equal protections to lost dogs and cats. Cat owners are not second-class citizens. They deserve the same rights to locate and claim their lost cat as dog owners do. Right now, HB 4915 will mandate a stray hold for dogs, but none for cats. HB 4915 must be amended to allow equal protections to dogs and cats. Email MikeMcCready@house.mi.gov. Call (517) 373-8670.

2. Contact the Michigan Attorney General to ask how they plan to fund and to support the shelters that do not have the resources to hold lost pets for six months. Ask the Attorney General to reverse this decision immediately. Email miag@michigan.gov. Call the Lansing office at 517-373-1110. Call the Consumer Protection Division at 517-373-1140.

3. Contact your state representative and ask for their support in reversing this decision. Explain that we must have a state law mandating stray holds for dogs and cats. Michigan must provide time for pet owners to find and claim their lost pet without burdening the system and the animal with a six-month hold. If MDARD is unable to enforce the laws we need to protect our pets, then the responsibility for regulating and enforcing humane care and standards for companion animals needs to move out of MDARD and to a department that will devote what’s needed to these critically important issues. Find your state representative here.

4. Contact your State Senator and ask for their support in reversing this decision. Explain that we must have a state law mandating stray holds for dogs and cats. Michigan must provide time for pet owners to find and claim their lost pet without burdening the system and the animal with a 6-month hold. If MDARD is unable to enforce the laws we need to protect our pets, then the responsibility for regulating and enforcing humane care and standards for companion animals needs to move out of MDARD and to a department that will devote what’s needed to these critically important issues. Find your state senator here:http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

5. Contact Dr. Averill and MDARD and ask how they plan to support shelters that do not have the capacity and resources to hold lost pets for 6 months. Email averillj@michigan.gov. Call his cell at 517-449-0228 or office at 517-284-5667.

6. If you live in a city, township or village that is also home to an animal shelter, please message us so we can help you work with city council to pass a local stray animal ordinance that does not burden the shelter and does not cause the unnecessary stress and suffering of mandated six-month holds for dogs and cats.

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