Animal Law Update

New Michigan Law Empowers Animal Shelters to Deny Adoptions to Convicted Animal Abusers

On Dec. 28, 2016, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley signed into law House Bills 4353 and 4355, two of the four bills in the legislative package collectively known as “Logan’s Law.” The new amendatory acts, which passed the legislature with strong bipartisan support, allow Michigan animal shelters to deny adoptions under certain circumstances and to consider prior criminal history before adoption.

Logan was a Siberian husky victimized by an unknown assailant in 2012. The perpetrator, who was never found, threw battery acid on Logan’s face while he was sleeping in his outdoor kennel overnight. Logan lost his eyesight and suffered serious burns but seemed to be recovering with veterinary care and medication. However, six months after the attack Logan, who was 11 years old, died from complications resulting from his injuries.

To honor his memory, Logan’s human family, Matt and Nancy Falk, spearheaded the new legislation in an effort to keep animals up for adoption out of the hands of convicted animal abusers. At the end of March, animal shelters will be empowered to conduct criminal background checks on potential adopters using Michigan’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT), which is maintained by the Department of State Police, and can deny adoption to anyone who has been convicted of an animal abuse offense within the last five years.

Both bills amend Public Act 287 of 1969, Michigan’s law regulating pet shops, animal control facilities and animal shelters (although the new law does not apply to pet shops). The Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted testimony in support of the bills in May 2015.

Although earlier versions of the bills would have required shelters to conduct a criminal background check, and prohibited adoption of animals by individuals with recent animal cruelty convictions, the language was watered down to allow rather than require, in what Rep. Paul Muxlow, sponsor of HB 4355, called “a compromise.” HB 4355 states:

“Before allowing an individual to adopt an animal, an animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] conduct a search using ICHAT to determine whether that individual has a prior criminal history for an animal abuse offense.”

And HB 4353 states:

“An animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] consider an individual’s criminal history when deciding whether to allow that individual to adopt an animal. An animal control shelter or animal protection shelter may [emphasis added] choose not to allow an individual who has been convicted of an animal abuse offense to adopt an animal unless a period of at least 5 years has elapsed since the date of his or her conviction…”

Although not required by the new amendments, Michigan animal shelters will now have access to the ICHAT system to screen potential adopters for relevant criminal histories, and presumably even without it being expressly prohibited most shelter staff would choose not adopt an animal to an individual with a recent animal cruelty or neglect conviction.

Although HB 4353 and HB 4355 may not stop all potential abusers from obtaining an animal, their passage is an important first step in protecting shelter animals and ensuring they are placed in safe, loving homes. Matt Falk shared the news of the bills’ passage in December 2016 on Facebook, expressing gratitude to everyone who helped make it happen. His last thank you was for Logan: “I need to thank the one that has inspired me to take on this whole thing…. Logan! What a great dog he was. So thanks for being you Logi. You did not die in vain.”

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