Michigan Animal Shelters Can Now Run Background Checks on Pet Adopters

By Michael Klazema on 1/3/2017
Background checks will soon become a part of the pet adoption process in the State of Michigan. According to a report from the Associated Press, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor recently signed a piece of legislation that permits animal shelters throughout the state to run background checks on prospective pet adopters. Previously, Michigan animal shelters had no legal authority to require background checks for individuals seeking to adopt pets.

The goal behind the new law is to prevent known animal abusers from adopting new pets. Shelters that decide to use their new privileges and run background checks will be looking primarily for offenses involving the mistreatment or neglect of animals.

One important factor to recognize about Michigan's new law is that it does not require animal shelters to run background checks. Rather, the bill that Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley recently approved gives shelters the option to require background checks. Some shelters will likely choose to avoid the extra step, which could be a barrier to some pet adoptions due to cost and time.

Legislators had considered a version of the bill that would have mandated criminal history checks for all pet adopters. Before the bill reached the desk of the Lieutenant Governor, though, lawmakers amended it to make the checks an optional step.

Still, requirement or not, some shelters are looking forward to having additional resources at their disposal to help combat animal abuse. WLUC, a news station based in the Upper Peninsula, spoke to the director of Escanaba's Delta County Animal Shelter about the new law. The director, Susan Gartland, said she was glad to have “one more tool to be able to screen people.”

However, Gartland also noted that criminal background checks would likely remain a secondary tool for preventing abuse. Since many instances of animal abuse don't end in criminal conviction, organizations like the Delta County Animal Shelter rely on communication with community members and other shelters to flag potential abusers. In the WLUC report, Gartland went on record, urging people to call law enforcement or their local animal shelters when they notice potential instances of animal mistreatment.

Normally, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder would be responsible for approving or vetoing laws. Calley took on the responsibility of signing this particular piece of legislation because Snyder is currently on vacation out of state. However, this fact should not impact the validity or power of the law in any way.

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