By David Eggert, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) - A bid to make Michigan the first state with an animal abuser registry akin to one that shames and identifies sex offenders has been dropped by lawmakers over concerns about cost and other issues.
Instead, the state could soon require that criminal background checks be done on every would-be pet adopter at Michigan animal shelters. The $10 fee for each check would be waived for shelters under revised bills being drafted.
Judges would have to order defendants convicted of crimes against animals not to own or possess animals for at least five years.
Cracking down on those who abuse or neglect animals generally has broad support, though a recent committee hearing on the issue got heated when some dog breeders voiced opposition to the legislation.
The measure is named for Logan, a Siberian husky that died last year, four months after an unknown assailant dumped acid on his face inside a backyard kennel in Wales Township outside Port Huron. His owner, Matt Falk, says people from around the globe are buying "Logan's Law" T-shirts and pushing similar measures in other states and countries after seeing his Facebook page that tracks the Michigan bills.
"There's a lot of connection between animal abuse and human abuse," Falk said, "and I'd like to see these bills passed not only for the safety of animals but for the further safety of our human friends."
Because the proposed registry has run into resistance from state police officials and others who fear it would be expensive and cumbersome, legislators in the House and Senate are pursuing an idea they hope becomes law by year's end. Shelters could use the Michigan State Police's Internet Criminal History Access Tool, or ICHAT, to check if people wanting to adopt a pet have abused or neglected an animal in Michigan.
"Why not simply make this a free service for most of these organizations who have very little money, go month to month sometimes struggling to keep their doors open, and allow them to do a criminal check before they adopt out an animal?" said Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We want to try to stop that. No more victims being adopted out."
He pointed to the 2012 conviction of a former Michigan State University medical student who killed at least a dozen greyhound puppies.
The student's case, however, indicates potential loopholes that may not be able to be addressed in the legislation.
Andrew Thompson bought the dogs from out-of-state breeders and had them shipped to him. Those businesses couldn't be subject to doing background checks. Neither would in-state breeders under the bills.
"It's a start. Would I like it to be in law that no breeder or pet store would sell animals to someone who had been convicted? Absolutely. But we're looking for something we can get passed, and I think this is a good step," Jones said.
Sen. Steve Bieda, a Warren Democrat sponsoring the legislation with Jones, said which entities would have to conduct background checks is still a point of discussion and depends in part on feedback from breeders. Helping shelters and humane societies first is positive because they "tend to be the source of a lot of animals that are abused because they tend to be a little bit lower cost to begin with," he said.
Breeders seem receptive to changes coming to the legislation but still have concerns.
For one, they contend it's unfair to waive the ICHAT fee for nonprofits only and say the move could cost the state hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in lost fees.
"Mandating tens of thousands of criminal background checks on law-abiding citizens who merely wish to acquire a pet from a shelter is absolutely unwarranted when there are less than a dozen convictions for animal abuse in the state per year," said Anne Hier, a North Branch breeder who also serves as legislative director for the Michigan Association for Pure Bred Dogs.
Statewide arrests for animal cruelty averaged 122 annually in the past five years, according to the state police.
During a Senate committee hearing last week, supporters of the legislation were angered by a smaller contingent of dog breeders opposing the bills, one of whom questioned how strong the link is between animal abusers later becoming serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer.
"Before these people pooh-pooh these organizations who are doing everything in their power to help these helpless animals, they ought to spend a week in the streets," said Norman Van Etten of Detroit Dog Rescue, which rounds up loose dogs in the city and finds them homes. "I can't tell you ... the cruelty, the carelessness that we see every day."
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