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Legislation moves forward to prevent animal abusers from adopting from shelters

Liana Aghajanian
Flickr Creative Commons

A package of  four bills  is moving through the Michigan Legislature to require animal control and animal protection shelters to run criminal background checks on people wanting to adopt pets.

Under the bills, shelters could not allow a person convicted of  an animal abuse offense in the past five years to adopt a pet.  They could still deny adoption to someone convicted  more than five years ago. 

An animal abuse offense would include animal neglect, animal cruelty,  or using an animal for fighting.

"(Shelters) have another tool to protect that animal by preventing somebody who's a known abuser from obtaining one," said State Senator Steven Bieda, one of the bills' sponsors.

Under the legislation, Michigan State Police could not charge a fee for the name-based criminal record check requested by a nonprofit shelter for the purpose of animal adoption.  Bieda said the fee waiver provision will avoid a financial burden for the shelters.

Julia Willson, President and C.E.O of the Capital Area Humane Society in Lansing, said only about thirty percent of animal adoptions are through shelters.  The rest are through breeders, pet stores, Craig's list, and individuals. 

"If it's hard to get a pet from a shelter, it's not going to really deter an abuser," said Willson, "They'll just know not to go to a shelter because there'll be a background check." 

Willson said it makes sense to prevent animal abusers from acquiring pets. But the legislation should also apply to breeders. 

Although generally supportive of the bills' intentions, Willson expressed concern that some people who would otherwise be good pet owners could be deterred from adopting by the intrusiveness of a criminal background check.