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Matt Pepper weighs in on controversial ruling

In January of 2016, five Detroit Police Officers and a Sargent entered a home as part of a drug raid. The two suspects who were squatting in the home had three dogs in the home with them. In executing the raid all three dogs were shot and killed.

Police officers have incredibly difficult jobs and the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) is proud to partner with, and work alongside, the Detroit Police Department. MHS stands by the Detroit Police Department and has no position on the merits of the shooting.

In the time after the shooting, the suspects filed a lawsuit against the City of Detroit for the death of their dogs as a violation of their 4th amendment rights. The case was dismissed by the court after the city argued that because the dogs were unlicensed they were illegal to possess. They were deemed contraband and therefore the suspects had no legal rights to that “property” (the dogs).

MHS does not, in any way, defend any illegal activities the suspects have been alleged to be a part of. While MHS supports the Detroit Police Department and expresses no opinion regarding whether the killing of the dogs in this case was justified, we strenuously object to the court’s decision to dismiss the case based on the conclusion that the plaintiffs did not have a right or interest in the dogs because of their licensing status.

Our pets are a part of our lives. They are a source of unconditional love and companionship. Even though their definition under law says otherwise, they are not property to us. We cannot allow ourselves to undercut the foundation that the Michigan Humane Society and our incredible community partners have laid over the last 140 years. We must recognize the values of those we represent and the citizens of Detroit – that these pets are part of our families.

The basis for this ruling is an attack on the human/animal bond. This bond, our connection to the animals we share our lives with, is something MHS is committed to defending and protecting. A majority of pet owners view pets as an integral part of the family and the protection afforded to our pets under property laws are already viewed as insignificant given the powerful and emotional connection we have to them. To deny even those most basic protections, as this court did, could have unintended consequences that extend far beyond this case.

Ann Griffin serves as MHS’ Director of Advocacy and is the Chair of the animal law section of the State Bar of Michigan. She has drafted a more detailed document regarding our position and action to address this ruling by the court. It can be read HERE.


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Making the case: Animals and law enforcement

MHS advocates for humans and animals through its law enforcement training program.  And when a court misinterprets Michigan law in a case involving animals and law enforcement, MHS advocates for a correct interpretation.

In January 2015, MHS began developing a training program to help first responders handle animal encounters.  To carry out their duties and protect the public and animals, it is critical for officers to receive training designed to teach them Michigan animal law, enable them to quickly interpret animal behavior in face-to-face interactions, and make them aware of the issues that may arise in investigations involving crimes against animals.

With the growing number of animals in our communities, officers will encounter animals with increasing frequency.  However, most officers are not trained beyond the potential need to use deadly force when encountering animals.

MHS launched its training program in June 2015 and has trained hundreds of officers.   Our goal is to provide officers with options and strategies to keep themselves and the humans and animals in their communities safe, leaving the use of deadly force as a last resort.

Sadly, there are times when officers are faced with extremely aggressive animals and have no other option other than to respond in kind to protect humans.  However, our legal system is one of checks and balances, and if an animal owner believes that an officer has acted unreasonably in shooting his or her animal, there is a potential legal remedy.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unlawful government seizures of our property.  In the U.S., animals are legally considered property.  An owner who believes that his or her dog was “seized” (shot and injured or killed) unreasonably can bring suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and allege violation of his or her civil rights.  While officers who acted reasonably are protected by qualified immunity, if the court decides that the police did not act reasonably, the plaintiffs can receive substantial damages.

The facts in one such case occurred in January 2016, when five Detroit police officers and one sergeant conducted a drug raid on a house in Detroit. The house was occupied by Nikita Smith and Kevin Thomas, who were squatting in the residence. There were three large dogs in the house with them. The dogs were not licensed.  In executing the raid, the police shot and killed all three dogs.

Smith and Thomas sued in federal district (trial) court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the unlawful seizure of their dogs under the Fourth Amendment. The officers brought a motion for summary judgment – essentially, a motion to have the case dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to make their case. The officers’ most legally significant argument was that Smith and Thomas did not have a property interest in their dogs because they were unlicensed in violation of Michigan and Detroit law.

The court granted the officers’ motion for summary judgment and held that Smith and Thomas did not have a legal property interest in their unlicensed dogs.

Smith and Thomas have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.  The appellate court will often accept “amicus briefs” from experts with an interest in the legal issues in the case.  These briefs can assist the court in weighing the various legal arguments.

Prof. David Favre, a national animal and property law expert on the MSU College of Law faculty, filed an amicus brief in this case.  He invited MHS to join the brief.  The parties to an amicus brief are required to provide a “statement of interest.”  The MHS statement of interest reads in part:

While MHS expresses no opinion regarding whether the killing of the dogs in this case was justified, MHS strenuously objects to the court’s decision to grant defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on the court’s legal conclusion that the plaintiffs did not have a possessory interest in their unlicensed dogs to support a claim for relief under

42 U.S.C. § 1983. MHS is gravely concerned that the decision in this case could negatively impact the human-animal bond by calling into question the fundamental principle of animals as property and an owner’s right to a legally-protected interest in that property.  The property law protections afforded to animals and their owners are already perceived as insufficient by pet owners who view their pets as family members, and to deny even those most basic protections as this court did could have unintended consequences that extend far beyond this case.

You can read the entire amicus brief here.  We are hopeful that the appellate court will reverse the trial court’s novel interpretation of Michigan law.  And we will continue to train as many officers as we can to try to ensure human and animal safety.


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Matt Pepper’s Journal Entries from Houston (Part 2)

As Hurricane Harvey battered Southeast Texas, the Houston SPCA began reaching out to animal welfare organizations throughout the United States to the thousands of animals impacted by the deadly storm. On Monday, Sept. 4, the Michigan Humane Society answered the beleaguered agency’s call with a team of nine trained and experienced animal welfare professionals, including a veterinarian, rescuers, first responders, and skilled shelter technicians, and a small fleet of vehicles equipped with significant transport capabilities.

Matt Pepper, MHS President and CEO, is among the team. Equal parts animal advocate and passionate writer, Matt is sharing his experiences by way of regular journal entries. Here are his first three.

Sept. 10, 2017: Day 5: Heavy lifting

There are still more than 700 animals (dogs, cats and livestock) at the Houston SPCA and some 250 more spread between two local boarding facilities. There are dogs and cats in every nook and corner in this building, plus an incredibly adorable miniature pig. Resources and staff are stretched to the limit, but today had a hint of normalcy to it.

I sat in the incident command meeting in the morning, and there was an overarching theme: let’s get a plan to start winding down. It was clear these people, who have given all they have, were ready to start thinking about returning to business as usual. I have to wonder whether an event like this can ever leave anyone the same person they were, or if anything can ever really be like it was. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Adversity and tragedy can make us better people.

The command team began putting processes and timelines in place to shut down some external emergency facilities. The mere mention of this put a much-needed, and well-earned, smile on the face of most in the room. It was the first hint of that light at the end of the tunnel.

It was truly inspiring to hear Patti Mercer, CEO of the Houston SPCA, speak about the animals and colleagues of Florida in the aftermath of this catastrophic event. With the certain devastation of Hurricane Irma to follow Harvey, her thoughts, and those of her team, were about others.

While not as exciting as the hoarding case yesterday, today was about filling a true need and helping build a strong foundation for recovery. Our MHS team stepped up and filled in gaps in supporting Houston SPCA teams on animal care, cleaning, and the daily needs of the facility and its animals. If it needed to be done – we did it. The team was dirty, sweaty, tired and sore. Today was the last day in Houston for the Animal Humane Society, the Connecticut Humane Society and the Atlanta Humane Society. Tomorrow MHS and the SPCALA will be the only external support from other animal welfare organizations. There remains the likelihood that teams from two or three other organizations will relieve us when we leave and continue to support the recovery efforts.

The need is still overwhelming. The medical team, supported by MHS, started treatment protocols on animals in need of care at the start of the day and didn’t finish until just before 5 p.m. The care and treatment of these animals, which have undergone such a horrific ordeal and are clearly scared and confused, seems endless.

Emergency intakes have begun to decrease, and now the task ahead of us is to work with the Houston SPCA team to maximize the opportunities to reunite each animal with its owner and to give those that are not, or cannot be, the best chance at a new beginning.

It is clear that our team is developing a friendship and a comradery with the team at the Houston SPCA. At the end of the day conversations revolve around the sweat, dirt, and spending time alongside one another. We talk about what’s next for them as if it is next for us. We are invested in their success.

What I am most proud of is that while this event is truly catastrophic, and has put a spotlight on our efforts in Houston, what we are doing here is no different than the compassion and care we give to every animal back home. Every animal in need is an emergency that requires everything we have. We give our heart and soul, and a piece of us lives in every animal entrusted to us. I am incredibly proud to represent the Michigan Humane Society and to stand alongside, and get more than a little dirty with, our team.

Sept. 11, 2017: Day 6: The tide recedes

Today felt like the first step in scaling back from Harvey.

When Harvey made landfall, the influx of animals into the Houston SPCA was overwhelming. Two boarding facilities opened their doors to the overflow of animals; 246 of them between the two facilities. Our field team, consisting of Dave McLeod, Debby MacDonald and Myron Golden, spent the day ferrying animals from the boarding facility back into the fold at the Houston SPCA. The boarding facilities were a true emergency contingency, and it was clearly a step in the right direction to start to draw down those populations.puppy houstonThe team’s final trip resulted in 47 dogs coming back to the Houston SPCA. It was incredible to see the efficiency of teams from Houston, SPCALA and the Michigan Humane Society as they unloaded, triaged and found a place for these dogs. It is backbreaking, tiring work, and it was hot today, but at the end of the day significant progress had been made toward scaling back from Harvey.reptile houstonErica Sikora and Laura Peterson were tasked with continuing the treatment for the more than 450 animals at the Houston SPCA that needed advanced medical care. Dr. Fisher was put to work in surgery and was presented with no shortage of challenges.

He performed an amputation, removed an eye, repaired a broken jaw and even helped remove part of a dog’s severely damaged ear. At one point, the technicians at the Houston SPCA said they couldn’t keep up with him. Dr. Fisher is an incredibly talented veterinarian, and we are lucky to have him with the Michigan Humane Society and with us on this trip.team houstonAnna Chrisman and Larry Wilhelm returned to transporting animals to the veterinary clinics that have volunteered to foster displaced animals. Today they made stops at three clinics in the Dallas area.matt pepper houstonI spent the morning in the command meeting identifying a plan to start scaling back and tying up loose ends in preparation for getting back to “business as usual.” The conversations revolved around continuing to draw back the external populations and fold them back into the Houston SPCA or identify alternative placements for them. The Houston SPCA is committed to giving each animal displaced by Hurricane Harvey the best opportunity at being reclaimed by its family or giving it a new life. Tomorrow I am taking over shelter operations and support functions for a day while Houston SPCA’s director of animal care services takes a much-needed day off. He says he intends to sleep in and watch football. He’s earned it. I am honored to have been given this leadership role for the Houston SPCA and am eager to prove their faith well-placed.

This team has made an incredible impression on staff at the Houston SPCA. They are seen as leaders. That is what MHS does: it leads.

Sept. 12, 2017: Day 7: Helping animals big and small

Dr. Fisher slept with a squirrel!

As he was about to check out for the day, around 7 p.m., someone pulled up to the Houston SPCA with a baby squirrel suffering from exposure. We are here and have a responsibility to make a difference, which about sums up our day: commitment.

When MHS commits itself to something it is a promise and an obligation. We are all in – here and back home. Where need exists, we will be there.

The Houston SPCA uses Shelter Buddy. This is the same shelter software program that we use. Anna Chrisman and Laura Peterson are very proficient and have offered to help get the inventory in line. It is incredibly difficult to keep track of where animals are in a shelter when they are coming and going from all directions. While this isn’t a “sexy” story, it was critical to the Houston SPCA’s ability to draw down from this disaster.

Dave McLeod and Myron Golden spent another day helping clean in the morning and transporting animals from a local boarding facility that had been helping the SPCA. The number of animals in external holding facilities that were necessitated by Harvey has been cut in half. This is important because it starts to minimize the amount of internal resources that have to be spread throughout Southeast Texas.

I anticipate animals will continue to be transferred back to the Houston SPCA from these facilities through the week and that this operation can be shut down by the end of the week. That is, of course, if we are able to continue to find viable and responsible outlets for the animals in our care. The veterinary network acting as fosters has slowed to a trickle.

Dr. Fisher, assisted by Erika Sikora, spent his day again in surgery. That is, until he met his new friend and had a sleepover.dr fisher houstonDebby MacDonald and Mandy Looney had perhaps the brightest spot of the day. A piglet had come to the Houston SPCA during the floods. The owner desperately wanted him back but had no means to get to the facility. Debby and Mandy drove to Beaumont and facilitated a reunion.piglet-houston.jpgThe director of animal services here at the Houston SPCA took a much-needed day off, so I was handed the keys. I had two goals in mind: don’t burn the place down, and don’t go backward. Fortunately we did much more than that and put some activities in motion to start to scale back from Harvey. Today the Houston SPCA CEO, Patti Mercer, is taking a well-deserved day off. She has done an incredible job leading her team with confidence, compassion and clarity. We are proud to be here working alongside her team.

There is a new development. For the past few days I have been in contact with a former colleague, John Robinson. John is director of animal services for Escambia County, Florida. The last time I saw John, was in 2011 during the Mississippi River flooding. At the time, John was the operations director for the Memphis/Shelby County Humane Society and I was the director of Memphis Animal Services. It is strange that disaster circumstances have brought us back together again.

Our team has been scheduled to reroute east through Pensacola on the way home and pick up animals that have been displaced by Hurricane Irma. Escambia County Animal Services has been inundated with lost pets as people have evacuated from Irma’s path. These animals have been vetted and vaccinated and will have a health certificate and be able to go up for adoption through MHS once we get back home.

We are incredibly proud to be of service to the countless animals in Southeast Texas and Florida who have been impacted by the storms. It is an honor to play such a significant role in both national disasters.

That said; it’s clear we are winding down and our “tanks” are getting low. I’m tired.

Sept. 13, 2017: Day 8: My final post

Debby MacDonald and I are in Beaumont, TX, waiting on the MHS contingency to catch up after a blown tire on one of our trailers. Driving through Beaumont has been my first real glimpse at the everyday lives that have been turned upside down by Hurricane Harvey. We stopped at a truck stop only to find out it had been completely submerged by water. Cars left abandoned and destroyed, glass blown out. It looked like a bomb went off. Houses along the way had what had to have been everything important to that family just piled on the side of the road. Their belongings had been turned to nothing more than a pile of unrecognizable garbage. I hope that these families find comfort in each other and, first and foremost, are safe.

We met a couple of great guys from Illinois who were meeting up with an organization to volunteer their time doing demo and repair work. Looking at these homes, it’s clear there will be no shortage of work.

Two people have stopped me and genuinely thanked me for being here. One said, “If you are all from Michigan, that’s where it’s at – thank you,” followed by a heartfelt fist bump.

It is both humbling and inspiring to see people come together when it is needed most. If, heaven forbid, anything so destructive ever happens in my backyard, these are the people I want in my life.

I am, if it is possible, even more proud of the Michigan Humane Society and the impact we are having on the lives of these people and their pets.


From the road,

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Matt Pepper’s Journal Entries from Houston (Part 1)

As Hurricane Harvey battered Southeast Texas, the Houston SPCA began reaching out to animal welfare organizations throughout the United States to the thousands of animals impacted by the deadly storm. On Monday, Sept. 4, the Michigan Humane Society answered the beleaguered agency’s call with a team of nine trained and experienced animal welfare professionals, including a veterinarian, rescuers, first responders, and skilled shelter technicians, and a small fleet of vehicles equipped with significant transport capabilities.

Matt Pepper, MHS President and CEO, is among the team. Equal parts animal advocate and passionate writer, Matt is sharing his experiences by way of regular journal entries. Here are his first three.

Sept. 4, 2017: Day 1: The journey begins

Day one was spent on the road.

There was a palpable excitement, mixed with the appropriate level of nerves and anxiety, among the group. The excitement was less about the experience we were about to undertake and more engrained in the possibility that we can make a difference. We all work at the Michigan Humane Society because we have a real impact on the people and pets that we speak for. The magnitude and gravity of this catastrophic event makes any state line or hometown irrelevant. This is about making a difference. Today, and for the next week, the Motor City is Houston, and we are the Houston SPCA.

Today was about contemplating the coming week. It was about developing a connection to this team. It is about what is best about animal welfare and the people who represent it—not just in Houston, not just in Detroit, but throughout the country. I have been inspired since Harvey’s landfall by the accounts of incredible organizations, represented by even more amazing people, from around the country working as one.

While today mostly revolved around the best of us, it was still mixed with some misinformation and internal conflict that, at times, plagues this profession. Social media can be a powerful tool for animal welfare but is too often used to spread chaos and confusion—as is the case with accusations, all false, aimed at the lead agency during this time. This is the true definition of adversity. These are complex issues that require strong leaders.

The Houston SPCA has done an incredible job under the most challenging circumstances. We are proud to work alongside them in support of their efforts to respond to and recover from Hurricane Harvey. If, heaven forbid, an event as destructive ever hits Detroit, I know they, and so many others, will be there. That is what leaders do.

This is an extraordinary time, and it requires extraordinary compassion and commitment. Overwhelmingly, today was about optimism; that we can do something to make a difference. That, after all, is what the Michigan Humane Society does. It is who we are.

Sept. 6, 2017: Day 3: “I’m exhausted”

The first two days were about anticipation; today was a healthy dose of reality.

Reporting at 8 a.m., we were immediately put to work. Our teams were split into two groups. Dr. Fisher handed the representative from the Houston SPCA his temporary veterinary license and was doing surgery on animals brought in from response teams within a half hour.

Dave McLeod, Myron Golden, Debby MacDonald, and I were assigned to assist in loading animals displaced from Beaumont, Texas, into transport vehicles from the Humane Society of Missouri. We worked alongside a fantastic team from the Atlanta Humane Society. These animals, more than 60, were to be dispersed among veterinary clinics in the greater Houston area, which were going to act as foster homes to give owners time to find their pets. While the weather by Houston standards was mild, mid 80s, sweat was rolling off all of us within minutes.

Once the dogs were loaded and we bid goodbye to the Humane Society of Missouri, it was time to rake up the wood chippings, clean the cages … and set it all up again.

Shortly after finishing, our team, which clearly had technical skills in animal handling that were valuable, was put back to work transferring more challenging dogs into the very annex area we had just cleared and set back up. These dogs were part of a large hoarding case uncovered by a boat patrol during the floods. The dogs were terrified. Of the roughly 40 dogs we transferred, half of them would not take a step and required us to carry them. Only a handful weighed less than 40–50 pounds. They had clearly never been walked on leash nor been handled with any regularity. If there is one good thing to come from today, I hope it is that we were able to provide the first time these dogs had likely experienced any compassion. That is something to be proud of.

At the end of the day, we must have worked with hundreds of dogs, very few of which were not challenging to handle. My knees hurt. My arms hurt. My back hurts. My eyes are heavy. I’m dead tired. But I get to go home in a week.

The reality of Hurricane Harvey really hit home when looking into the eyes of people who selflessly hadn’t taken a moment to think about their own lives for two weeks; these people were giving everything they had to be making a difference. Their own worlds had been turned upside down and yet they still showed up every day for the animals. More than 700 animals were at the shelter today in a variety of conditions; most in desperate need of attention but lucky to find themselves in the hands of the incredible folks at the Houston SPCA. I, and all of us from MHS, am honored to support their efforts.

It is very humbling to think about “what if.” What if this happened in Detroit? Would my view of the situation change? Very likely.

The team from MHS made me very proud today. We were welcomed into the HSPCA family and immediately provided relief to people who desperately needed it. We gave compassion to dogs and cats that had been through a horrific ordeal in their own right. The expertise we brought to Houston through our teams unquestionably enhanced and furthered the efforts on behalf of the animals of Southeast Texas. We pushed ourselves to the limits to have the greatest impact that we could have had on everyone, pet and person, impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Today I was proud of what we accomplished. Tomorrow, we wake up and do it again.

Sept. 7, 2017: Day 4: Team pride!

Today was an incredible experience.

I am overwhelmingly proud of the MHS team. They have conducted themselves so professionally and proficiently that we have all been tasked with more advanced duties and responsibilities.

The field team consisting of Debby MacDonald, Laura Peterson, Dave McLeod, and Myron Golden was assigned to a multi-organizational response to a heavily impacted area to pull 67 dogs and cats from a hoarding case that was identified during the floods. We were led by the HSPCA investigators and accompanied by a team from the Humane Society of Missouri. The roads were barely passable and required creative driving to get to the home where 40 dogs and 27 cats were taken in. Each of the responding agents was covered in sweat and mud, and vehicles were covered in a caked-on layer of dirt and grime. Most importantly, everyone came back safe and satisfied and, needless to say, tired.

mhs vehicle

When the convoy returned to the shelter, the process of evaluating the animals was a work of art. Representatives from the SPCALA, Connecticut Humane Society, Atlanta Humane Society, and MJHS working in concert with Houston SPCA staff processed and evaluated all of the animals. It was inspiring to see the efficiency of this group, many of whom have never worked with each other—by seeing it, you would have never known.


Dr. Fisher, who was once again put right to work in surgery, was pulled to provide more advanced medical evaluations of some of the dogs and cats that were worse off. He did not return to the office until almost 9:00 p.m. I’m not sure he had a meal or a break until he sat down after arriving back at the hotel.

Larry Wilhelm and Ann Chrisman were assigned to transport animals to veterinary clinics several hours away.

Our Sprinter, the large-volume transport vehicle so generously donated by an MHS supporter, has been invaluable in getting these dogs and cats to where they have the best chance to be reunited with their owners. These clinics will act as foster homes for the next 45 days while waiting on the hope that owners step forward.

Anna and Larry left shortly after 8 a.m. and did not return until 10 p.m. They have to empty and sanitize the Sprinter to have it ready for the first transport leaving tomorrow at 7 a.m.

Erika Sikora was assigned to the clinic, where she worked as a technician evaluating and processing animals in the overwhelmed facility. She has been asked to do a little of everything and has blown everyone away with her ability to do everything well. She was instrumental as a technician during the evaluation process of the 67 dogs and cats.

Not to be lost on this is Mandy Looney, who has done far more than just document our story. She has spent more time working and sweating alongside us than with a camera in her hand. We are incredibly lucky to have someone who is part of the family, committed to MHS and who we are, and so unbelievably gifted at helping us tell our story.

I was redirected today into a different role after a conversation with the HSPCA CEO Patti Mercer. I was asked to sit in on the incident command meeting at 8 a.m. It was an honor to have been asked to attend the meeting and more so to have been asked to assist in a leadership role supporting their command team.

Their shelter operations and support services lead hasn’t had a day off in weeks. He told me a story of a night shortly after Harvey’s landfall when he was forced to sleep in his office because he simply “couldn’t get home.” My job will be to work alongside him in a leadership role on shelter operations and support services and, within a few days, to give him a much-needed break and take on the role independently for a day or two.

I am humbled to be asked to provide my insight and experience to the task and can only hope to live up to the expectations I have of myself and the faith they have put in me.

I can’t imagine anything more simultaneously emotionally and physically exhausting and exhilarating as today; then again, I said that yesterday.

debbie macdonald

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“No Kill” label divides shelters, diminishes impact

The term “no kill” is often thrown around by both animal welfare professionals and those who are passionate about saving pets. But what does it actually mean? Ask four different people and you will receive four different answers. The term “no kill” is inherently admirable but has become equally, if not more, divisive.

Why is the term divisive? It creates confusion, and confusion creates division. What we need is clarity. With no real definition to drive our thoughts, many use the term to praise or condemn one shelter over another, to discredit an organization, and to demean those working there. Here is what I know is a concrete truth in animal welfare: People in this profession are here because they want to make a difference – they want to save lives.Chico - Before - Screen Shot 2012-10-23 at 11.36.37 AM
Using the term “no kill,” a vague label, to compare one shelter to another fails to take into consideration the many unique factors that impact an individual shelter and the many other ways in which that shelter works on behalf of those most vulnerable in the community.

It fails to look at scope and scale. It fails to step back and really see what each individual organization is doing with the resources it has for the animals about which it cares so deeply. Impact is so much more important than labels. When we create confusion we create doubt in the minds of those whose support is so critical to the work we do.

The Michigan Humane Society does not euthanize animals that are healthy or treatable. Since late 2015, MHS has held a 100 percent placement rate for healthy and treatable animals. Does this mean MHS is a “no-kill” shelter? By most definitions: yes. However, we would never define ourselves as such, and, more important, perhaps it’s time to discard the term altogether and look at what responsible modern sheltering should look like.

To discard the term “no kill” does not mean that we have to discard the principles behind it: that every animal that should be saved has an opportunity at life. This is the first point of clarity. “Should” be saved is different from “can” be saved.Chico - Adopted by the Andrzejczak Family - Photo by Gabi Vannini 0038Many animals entering MHS each year have never been socialized and display inherent aggression. We, as professionals in animal welfare, have to consider our obligation to public safety and the integrity of our placement process. Each animal we evaluate is an individual and a product of its owner and its environment. Genetics play a part in an animal’s behavior, but overwhelmingly the animals we see that display aggression are a product of the factors around them.

Regardless, this fact does not make them any less dangerous. Whether offensively aggressive or aggressive out of fear – the result is aggression and an animal that should not be placed. This is not to say that it could not be placed, but that it should not. We have a responsibility for public safety that has to coexist with our responsibility to the animals entrusted to us.

The term “no kill” alone tends to manifest itself as a “YOU need to do something” mentality rather than an “I need to do something” mindset. Criticism from behind a keyboard does not save lives. MHS, as an example, puts countless hours and resources into medically treating and behaviorally rehabilitating the most vulnerable animals. However, those efforts are wasted without community support and people willing to adopt from us. Animal shelters have an obligation to the animals they care for but are only successful if the community, which values animals as much as we do, steps away from saying “someone” will do something and, instead, says “I” will do something.

Take the pit bull conversation, for example. MHS is strongly against any form of breed-specific legislation. Most years we adopt out more pit bulls or pit bull mixes than most animal shelters in Michigan adopt out total dogs. With that said, the majority of the intake at MHS’ largest facility, the Mackey Center for Animal Care in Detroit, is pit bulls. These are some incredible dogs – truly great companions.

However, there is a stigma about them, and regardless of the work we put into them, there are fewer people looking to adopt them. To put it bluntly, there is no line out our door to adopt pit bulls. We are not alone with the pit bull issue; it is an enormous burden on sheltering systems across the country.

These are some of the factors that impact the metrics that we are, fairly or unfairly, measured by – every animal requires an outcome and those outcomes require community support. With that comes an obligation for us as sheltering professionals to constantly challenge ourselves to do more – to save more lives.

Let’s look beyond those animals that, for behavioral reasons, should not be placed, and let’s consider the term “treatable.” The Asilomar Accords, a recognized standard for animal shelters worldwide, defines “treatable” as what a reasonable person in the community would treat. In and of itself, this definition is broad and subjective.

Heartworm is a case in point. Five years ago, MHS euthanized dogs that came to us with heartworm, with very few exceptions, mostly due to the sheer volume of animals we took in at that time. Those dogs were untreatable. Now, at any given time, we have between 10 and 15 dogs undergoing treatment for heartworm. In 2016, MHS invested over $250,000 to treat hundreds of dogs in our shelters with heartworm (a preventable disease). In 2017, we have classified as treatable more than 70 percent of the animals placed through MHS. We go above and beyond to individually define treatable in our system of shelters. Every animal entrusted to our care is given a chance at life.

However, our individual accomplishments are not how we measure success. Success is animal welfare organizations working in concert to give every animal the same opportunities at life. Keeping a boat afloat by bailing water into another boat is not the way to make it to shore. But that very notion is the mindset when we allow our actions to be guided by two words: no kill.

We have to discard the notion that a single number, a live-release rate, can define the effectiveness of a shelter. That is sheltering to a number, not a principle. Each animal must be considered an individual, and each shelter must be evaluated based on its impact on the community and, more important, its impact on the animals we share our lives with.

Responsible sheltering should be driven by the principle that we provide every animal the care and compassion it deserves regardless of its outcome. We must balance our responsibility to public safety with our overarching philosophy that every healthy and treatable animal is saved.

Sometimes a term can take on a life of its own and no longer represent the values and principles it once intended. We must never lose sight of our obligation to the lives entrusted to us. Animal care is a community commitment. No one organization should declare success at the expense of other organizations.

Animal welfare has to be considered a community issue, one in which problems and challenges are overcome through collaboration and an unwavering commitment to compassion and life.

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Responsible Pet Owners will Curb Dog Maulings

On June 17, a 10-year-old girl on Detroit’s east side was mauled by a pit bull while playing in the back yard of the home where the dog lived. She suffered horrific injuries. One can only imagine the fear and terror she felt as this happened and the scars, physically and emotionally, she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

The dog, known to be aggressive, was kept locked in an upstairs room when people came by the home. A door was inadvertently left open allowing the dog to escape and maul this poor, innocent child. This same dog attacked a utility worker in a previous incident.

Knowing this dog’s aggressive temperament, it was the owner’s responsibility to be vigilant and maintain strict control of the animal. This tragedy could have been prevented.

But why was a dangerous dog in someone’s home to begin with? Why would anyone keep an animal that poses a threat to their family? A 2015 Harris poll found that the majority of pet owners consider pets their family members. While encouraging, there are still many who don’t.

Instead, some dogs are used as a form of home defense, selected for their aggressive temperament, left alone in a yard, not socialized, chained and unloved. Their worlds consist of a short circle, the length of whatever chain they are tied to, and they will defend that world violently.

As a result, these animals have no idea how to interact with humans. Last Saturday’s horrific incident was a much more likely outcome than the dog deterring criminal activity. We have to move past the idea that a dog, or any family pet, is anything other than a companion. There is no reason to own a dog if its role in life is any different.

Having dogs with inherent and unpredictable aggression, especially if we know about it, has a compounding effect on all of us. Aggressive animals clearly impact the public safety of our neighborhoods, support stereotypes about Detroit, and counteract the positive work of animal welfare advocates throughout the state.

This is not a pit bull issue. It is not a Detroit issue. It is not a poverty issue. It is a negligence issue on the part of the owner and a lack of understanding and compassion for the animals with whom we share our communities.

We must, collectively, raise the inherent value of pets beyond merely serving a purpose and then easily disregarded or replaced. We must connect to our pets or, frankly, make the decision not to have them. It is so incredibly important. If we can elevate the value of companion animals, personally and in our communities, and ensure that dogs are treated with compassion and care, we will see these horrifying incidents disappear.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO

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Crime Stoppers and Animal Cruelty

In June, the Michigan Humane Society and Crime Stoppers of Michigan announced a powerful and unique partnership that will result in a completely anonymous option for citizens to report animal cruelty. Now, animal cruelty calls received by Crime Stoppers will be directed to both the law enforcement authority in a particular jurisdiction and the Michigan Humane Society.

If you’re not familiar with Crime Stoppers of Michigan, this nonprofit organization is dedicated and committed to “working together to create stronger, safer communities.” Inherent in that core principle is the power of, and the need for, collaboration.

Why is our partnership important?

On the practical side, this partnership provides MHS a unique opportunity to both directly investigate animal cruelty and neglect in a larger geographic area, and provide critical counsel, assistance and resources to more local jurisdictions. You may not know this, but cruelty investigation and rescue is something we have been doing, and doing well, for more than a century. MHS responds to more than 8,000 complaints every year.

More importantly, teaming up with Crimes Stoppers is further evidence of an elevated understanding among law enforcement of the correlation between animal cruelty and human violence. Animal cruelty is more than simply an animal issue; it is a public safety and community issue.

We believe that animal welfare professionals and law enforcement have an obligation to respond to and address animal cruelty with the same level of professionalism and attention as any other form of violence.

As passionate protectors and guardians to the animals we share our lives with, the team at MHS embraces the notion that suffering of any kind is not acceptable.

Animal and human violence: the link

In theory, it’s not hard to understand that someone capable of inflicting pain and suffering on an animal is capable of doing the same to a person. History provides us with many examples of unspeakable criminal violence following early acts of cruel animal abuse.

And while we know of extreme cases, they are not unique. There is overwhelming evidence linking animal cruelty to serious conduct disorders, such as mass homicides, and more common crimes, such as domestic violence.

In family abuse situations, the family pet is often used as a weapon to control the victim. Threats and actual harm to the family pet often keep the victim from leaving or speaking up. A study by the American Humane Association in conjunction with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that 71 percent of pet-owning women entering shelters reported their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims.

The study also found that between 25 and 40 percent of battered women don’t leave abusive situations because they worry about how their pets will fare without them.

You can learn more about the link between animal abusers and how they negatively impact community health at a variety of websites. Here are three excellent sites to visit: sheriffs.org/programs, animallaw.info/article, nationallinkcoalition.org. I invite you to spend time educating yourself, because somewhere, somehow, your knowledge may help you make a positive impact with someone struggling with the issues I mentioned above.

You can make a difference today

This brings me to the crux of our collaboration with Crime Stoppers of Michigan. To successfully further efforts to combat and address animal cruelty in our communities, we need YOU!

We are depending on people like you who are willing to speak up for those who have no voice, to report the cruelty and neglect they witness in their neighborhoods and bring justice to those who deserve it.

When MHS and Crime Stoppers team up, we help make reporting animal cruelty a simple and anonymous process. We begin to address a serious threat to public safety and, together, work toward ending suffering of any kind in our communities.

Ending animal cruelty may seem a lofty, unrealistic goal, but we have to start with the end in mind.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” — Henry Ford

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO