Michigan Considers Background Checks for People Adopting Pets from Shelters

By Michael Klazema on 8/2/2013

Michigan state senators are considering a proposal that would require animal shelters to run criminal background checks on everyone who applies to adopt one of their pets. The goal of the proposed legislation is to prevent individuals with histories of animal abuse from gaining access to the animals. Legislators also cited studies suggesting a link between animal and human abuse as evidence that passing the bill and reducing animal abuse would be good for everyone.

Originally, the bill proposed establishing an animal abuse offender registry, which shelters would be able to consult before giving away an animal. However, the idea of a registry was rejected as too much for the Michigan State Police to manage. As an alternative, legislators then proposed background checks. If an individual is found to have a conviction for animal abuse, they will not be permitted to adopt an animal from a shelter for at least five years. However, they could purchase an animal from a breeder as breeders will not be subject to the bill’s proposed background check requirement.

Criminal background checks are widely recognized as an important tool in protecting vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, and the disabled from individuals who might potentially abuse them. If the proposed legislation is passes, pets will also be recognized as a vulnerable group requiring protection.

While the proposal received strong support during its hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, detractors pose reasonable doubts as to the bill’s appropriateness and effectiveness.

One issue with the proposal is that it calls for background checks to be conducted through the Michigan State Police ICHAT system. This state-based background check will only return criminal records maintained by Michigan’s Criminal Justice Center, making it possible for individuals with animal convictions in other states to slip through the cracks.

A background check tool such as US OneSEARCH from would be more effective in screening out animal abusers, because US OneSEARCH has a scope that spans jurisdictions for every state. It involves a search of over 450 million public criminal records collected from state and local databases across the country, and returns records that match a given name and date of birth. In most cases, the cost of US OneSEARCH is similar to or even less than the cost of a state-based search.

Another issue is that the bill currently includes a provision allowing for the state to foot the bill for each $10 background check conducted by an animal shelter. Detractors of the bill object to this waiving of fees in the name of economic fairness.

Ann Hier of the Michigan Association of Pure Bred Dogs came out against the bill, even though dog breeders will not be affected by the background check requirements. She said that the proposal was an overreach on the part of the state and also questioned the validity of the studies linking animal and human abuse that were cited by legislators in support of the bill.

The proposal will probably be considered by the Legislature this fall. Hopefully, it will transform again before then in order to address some of the above concerns.


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