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“Of Wolves and Men”
Posted on 07/08/2013 in Your Dog, Your Rights.

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by Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel

Michigan has had two major issues recently come to the forefront that resonate across the country. One is the idea of a so-called animal abuse registry; these have been cropping up across the country. The other is a major victory against HSUS when it comes to the wolf hunt. While these are close to home for me, they both have implications for the rest of the country. The animal abuse registry because it’s one of the newest agendas being pushed from the AR’s, and the wolf battle because it demonstrates that these groups might have more money and might be good at scamming the public, but despite that they can still be beat.

The animal abuse registry act (HB 4534/4535 and SB 377/378) would create a statewide animal abuse offender registry. The registry would be a list of those convicted of animal abuse crimes that shelters and other adoption agencies would be required to check before adopting out animals. It’s oddly been nicknamed “Logan’s Law”. I say odd because Logan was a dog that was horribly injured when his owner’s neighbor threw acid on his face. While that was a terrible thing to be done to a dog, how an animal abuse registry would prevent something like that from happening is well beyond my comprehension.

It’s slowly gaining legs here in the legislature, and it has also gotten a lot of positive press. On its face, it sounds like a great and wonderful idea, right? A closer reading of the entire proposition, along with the facts, gives me pause, however, for several reasons. Anyone convicted of certain animal abuse crimes must be enrolled in the registry - that includes those convicted “under a comparable statute” from other states and jurisdictions. Encompassing other jurisdictions under such a vague definition is arguably overbroad. Nor is there a time frame for how far back these convictions must be.

Individuals placed on the registry must remain on for five years from the date of release or the date of sentencing, whichever is later. Those on the registry must update information every time they move, and must pay $250 per year; $150 of that is to go towards an animal abuse offenders registration fund, which would maintain the registry and database. Those who fail to report or otherwise violate the requirements may face up to one year in prison - the same holding true for shelters or other agencies who knowingly adopt to a registered abuser.

There are indeed some positives to a potential law such as this. It would stop animal abusers from adopting dogs from shelters, pounds, humane societies and other rescue agencies. In reality, however, how many animal abusers go to shelters or rescues to obtain animals? It seems to me they would not subject themselves to any potential scrutiny such as adopting. Most rescues screen quite strictly as it is; adding this to pre-screening requirements might cause adopters to become even more strict than they already are, which could potentially hurt adoption numbers.

These bills anthropomorphize animals in many ways, one being that it places them on the same level as humans - the registry would put animal abusers on par with sexual predators.

The abuse registry will allegedly only allow the name, date of birth, and zip code of registrants to be seen by the public. Further reading of the bill shows that the confidential information in the database will be available to many groups of people, including shelter volunteers who “suspect” animal abuse. In my humble opinion, anyone outside of law enforcement should not have access to confidential databases such as these.

Remember, also, that part of the annual fine that registrants have to pay is supposed to help fund the registry. Michigan only has approximately seven convictions per year. The cost to create, update and run such a database will be far greater than it would be worth to maintain. The negative fiscal impact is one of the main reasons that these bills have failed in other states. Furthermore, the Michigan State Police Department is opposed to such a registry and they are the department expected to maintain it.

Surprisingly, even Wayne Pacelle of the HSUS does not support these animal abuse registries. In a blog about his reservations, he claims that publicly shaming abusers will not help with their rehabilitation, and that stronger neglect and cruelty laws would serve a better purpose than would a registry. These are by far some of the most sensible statements I’ve ever heard come from HSUS! Hopefully Michigan will not be an example for the rest of the country in being the first state to create a poorly written statewide animal abuse registry. However, with some revisions, it has great potential.

Where Michigan has set a good example has been with the wolf issue. I have previously discussed the wolf issue here in Michigan. Wolves were recently delisted from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes Region, and at the end of 2012, the Michigan Legislature empowered the DNR with the ability to create a wolf hunting season. Since then, the AR’s and HSUS have come to Michigan, spending tons of money on a signature gathering campaign. This is becoming a common MO for HSUS; to come into a state, form a group (in this case it was “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected”), spin the facts into lies, and gather signatures off those lies to get the issue on the ballot.

Once it is on the ballot, the battle is usually lost, as HSUS will spend millions on advertising to sell their side of things. California is a perfect example: HSUS managed to get some agriculture issues on the ballot, and made an ad campaign showing dead chickens and downed cows. There wasn’t a lot of defense to those images, the public was overwhelmingly sold, and HSUS won the vote. Here in Michigan, by March they had gathered the required number of signatures by telling people some flat out lies about the potential wolf hunt.

However, Michiganders fought back - and won! Michigan is one state that really does not bend to the influence of out of state interests and money. Senate bills 288 and 289 were introduced to change the game. Previously, only the legislature could designate game species, but SB 288 extended that authority to the Natural Resources Commission of the DNR as well. It might not sound like much, but the NRC decisions are administrative decisions not subject to any ballot referendums. The legislature recognized that the NRC would be in a better position than the legislature to make some of the more complex wildlife decisions based on their expertise and scientific input.

Voter referendums have no scientific basis whatsoever, but rather are false campaigns driven by emotions. The legislature retains the sole authority to remove any game species. In addition, the bill provides active military members in Michigan with free licenses. SB 289 declares that citizens have a right to hunt and fish in this state. Despite opposition and outrage by HSUS and their supporters, the bills received huge support, quickly gained momentum, and were signed into law on May 8, which made the ballot initiative by HSUS a moot point.

A Wolf Management Plan was drafted in 2008 by a wide array of individuals that comprised the Wolf Roundtable - DNR employees, wildlife biologists and animal welfare advocates - who used data and science to create a comprehensive plan and tools to deal with wolves in the event they would be delisted. The NRC has been closely examining the Wolf Management Plan, and been receiving input and testimony from experts on both sides for months. After much deliberation and examination of facts and recommendations from the Wolf Roundtable, the NRC approved a limited wolf hunting season. Although HSUS portrayed it as a rushed decision because the season was approved one day after the law was passed, in reality the NRC has been intensely studying the issue in depth since December. There will be a target number of 43 wolves in three management units commensurate with the level of recent wolf depredations and nuisance complaints. Once the harvest is met in an area, it will be closed for the entire season. After the first season, the NRC and DNR will reevaluate for future seasons.

Michigan has demonstrated that HSUS doesn’t always win, but they have to be stopped before they get the issue to the ballot. Once the issue is on the ballot, we’ve lost. HSUS is too savvy with their advertising campaigns and millions they have at their disposal to spend to spin and sell the wrong story to the public. The ingenious legislation that was quietly and quickly introduced here in Michigan was a great lesson for future insidious attacks from AR’s.