Michigan Seeks to Strip Families of the Right to Reclaim Their Lost Cats

 Allows Some Cats to be Killed Right Away


A bill introduced in Michigan will allow the Michigan Humane Society and other 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” (a strange way to write “immediately upon impound”) — “ownership of the animal transfers” to the shelter and their families lose all rights to them.

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).

Finally, if local animal lovers want to increase protections at the local level, the bill prohibits them from doing so. The bill specifically says that local government “shall not” do so. Why?

I’ve written the legislative author and the committee hearing the bill and asked for changes which will meet the goal of promoting sterilization and release, increasing adoptions, reducing deaths, and shortening length of stay, while also — listen up Michigan Humane Society because this is important — protecting families. 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.

If you live in Michigan, please send a note to the committee by clicking here.

Here is the language I recommended instead:

(a) The required holding period for stray animals shall be four business days, not including the day of impoundment, subject to the following:
(1) Animals impounded without identification shall be held for owner redemption during the first two
days of the holding period, not including the day of impoundment, and shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the remainder of the holding period.

(2) Shelters may transfer an animal impounded without identification at any time after impound to an IRC Section 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that is a (i) animal rescue group, (ii) private animal shelter, or (iii) organization formed for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as long as potential owners are afforded the same rights of reclamation as if the animals were still in the shelter.
a. Whenever an animal is transferred pursuant to this provision, a photograph of the animal and all information pertaining to the animal’s impoundment and transfer (including the location where the animal was found, the date of impoundment, the date of transfer, and the name of and contact information for the receiving organization) shall be maintained in electronic, searchable and publicly reviewable form at the shelter and on the shelter’s website.

(3) An owner that satisfies a shelter’s reclaim requirements before the expiration of the holding period is entitled to reclaim the animal even if the animal has been transferred pursuant to subsection (a) (2) and is no longer physically in the shelter’s custody. At the owner’s discretion, the owner has the right to
physically redeem the animal at the shelter.

(4) An IRC Section 501(c)(3) organization which receives an animal pursuant to subsection (a)(2) must return the animal for reclamation pursuant to subsection (a)(3) and is liable to the owner for failure to do so.

(b) The required holding period for an owner relinquished animal shall be four business days, not including the day of impoundment.
(1) The animals shall be available for owner redemption, transfer, and adoption for the entirety of the holding period.

(c) The holding periods required by sections (a) and (b) of this provision do not apply to cats who are impounded solely for the purpose of sterilization and are then returned to the location where they were found.

(d) An animal who is irremediably suffering physically shall be euthanized without delay, upon a determination made in writing and signed by a veterinarian licensed to practice medicine in this state. “Irremediable physical suffering” means an animal who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain even with comprehensive, prompt, and necessary veterinary care, as determined by a veterinarian licensed to practice in this state.

Please note: While I support the stated intent of the bill to promote sterilization and release, increase adoptions, reduce deaths, and shorten length of stay, the bill is poorly written and counterproductive. It is also unconstitutional.  This bill would not only undermine the relationship people have with their animal companions and cause them emotional suffering, but it is also illegal. As wrong as it is to talk of cats as “property,” given their current legal status as such and without the benefits that would come with having other legally guaranteed rights at this time in history, in this limited circumstance, their legal status as property confers a protection where no others currently exist: the express intent of the proposal being put forth is to divest a person of his “title” without any reasonable proceeding for that purpose and would manifestly be a taking of property without due process of law. Given that these animals are often beloved family members, it is naïve to assume that none of those people will step forward to challenge the constitutionality of that law. In fact, it is fair to assume that many of them are likely to do so and either way, our legislators should not be in the business of seeking unconstitutional laws. Instead of this poorly drafted and ill thought out bill, I wrote the author and committee and, in addition to asking them to remove the preemption language as it relates to increasing protections, suggested the alternative language above that can meet the policy goals of the bill while also protecting families and cats.


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