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Michigan group wants voters to approve registry of animal abusers

two people, including Genesee County Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson, holding cats
Genesee County Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson has been in law enforcement for over 30 years and works alongside the animal control unit in Genesee County. (Provided by Christopher Swanson)
  • Animal advocacy group Protect MI Pet created a ballot initiative aimed at preventing convicted animal abusers from adopting more pets  
  • The plan would also create a free, public animal abuse registry that can be used by shelters, pet shops and pet owners. 
  • The group is pushing for it to be included on the ballot in November 2024 for Michigan residents to vote on

Advocates hope to place a ballot measure before Michigan voters in 2024 to create an animal abuse registry that will make it easier for shelters to prevent those convicted of abuse, neglect, or cruelty from adopting another pet. 

The proposal — Protect MI Pet Initiative  —would expand existing laws by creating a publicly accessible animal abuse registry that is similar to the state’s sex offender registry.


Groups behind the effort include the Michigan Pet Alliance and the Genesee County Sheriff's Office. 


Under the proposal, an animal abuse registry would be free and accessible to anyone including animal shelters and control shelters, breeders, pet shops and even pet owners who may want backgrounds on their veterinarian or groomer. 

“You can’t beat a dog to death and then go and try to adopt one at animal control,” said Genesee County Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson who is spearheading the proposal.  

The effort comes as animal abuse cases are increasing, to 663 offenses statewide in 2021 from 496 in the previous year, according to the Michigan State Police. Cases of animal cruelty have increased every year since the state police started tracking them in 2016.

Proposal backers say the current system is riddled with problems and makes it too easy for repeat offenders to continually adopt pets.

Since 1969, Logan's Law has allowed licensed animal shelters in Michigan access to the state’s criminal background database. 

Alena Clark, assistant prosecutor in Genesee County, said a shortcoming of the current law is that a criminal background check displays all criminal convictions.

“When you do (records search), you get the information of the individual's entire background which is not necessary,” she said, adding, “just because you have other criminal convictions doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be a good pet owner.” 

The Protect MI Pet Initiative would create a registry of convicted animal abusers, but not require shelters to use it. Those convicted of animal-related misdemeanors would stay on the registry for two years, while felonies would keep them on for five years, Clark said.

Records would be removed after five years, but those convicted of three animal-related felonies would stay on the registry for life.

The proposed constitutional amendment would make it easier for animals to be adopted quickly while their owner’s abuse case plays out in court. 

That could be a sticking point for some critics. 

Police now seize pets as evidence during the criminal process, and the new law would give shelters three weeks to find a new home for animals after the conclusion of a preliminary hearing in abuse and neglect cases.

In some cases, those accused of animal cruelty are later acquitted after the cases are bound over for trial.

“There’s always good intentions,” said Shawn Haff,  an attorney for the Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan in Wyoming. “There’s things that come up that make you concerned the more you find out.” 

Haff said he has represented clients who have been convicted of neglect who should still be able to own a pet.

“My concern is that sometimes there are different kinds of neglect. I’ve had some people … that have been charged with neglect and the neglect basis was that they didn’t take the animal to the vet soon enough, which is kind of a subjective thing,” he said. 

But supporters of the change note that the current system can keep animals in shelters for months and years. They say those who believe their animals were taken unjustly can appeal a judge’s order.

“Animal shelters are not good environments for any animal,”  said Deborah Schutt, chairperson for the Michigan Pet Alliance, a nonprofit representing animal shelters.

“It is the location of last resort. Domesticated animals should not be living in cages.”

Protect MI Pet advocates say they are pushing for a constitutional amendment rather than going through the Legislature because bill language can often change as it winds through the House and Senate.


Swainson told Bridge Michigan that’s what happened with Logan’s Law more than 50 years ago. 

In order for the Protect MI Pet Initiative to be put on the ballot in 2024, the group must get 446,000 signatures on a petition. They could also present it to the Legislature who will vote and decide to include it on the ballot. 

“This is our one chance to get it right and protect companion animals like never before,” Swainson said.  

“I know it’s going to be a heavy lift, …  but it’s worthwhile to me,” Swainson said. “Something has to be done, and the accountability part is what’s missing.”

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