Michigan Humane Society

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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

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MHS Loves Pit Bulls

This week, Montreal approved legislation banning pit bulls.

Locally, the story of Diggy and the pit bull ban in Waterford Township made headlines. Michigan Humane Society’s position that such laws are ineffective and nearly impossible to enforce was bolstered when, eventually, a veterinarian declared that Diggy was NOT a pit bull after all.

I have written about MHS’ opposition to breed-specific legislation. Not only are such laws misguided, but we believe each animal should be judged on its own individual merit.

Genetics certainly play a role in any dog’s personality, but who that dog becomes is primarily a product of its owner and its environment. Raise a dog, any dog, in a positive environment and the result is likely a well-rounded companion that is part of the family.

These stories, and the lack of understanding of so-called bully breeds, often leave these dogs overlooked in shelters and without homes. In 2015, MHS placed more than 11,100 animals; many of those were pit bull or pit-bull mixes and went on to become incredible companions to their new families.

To show just how strongly we feel about this topic, we are highlighting some of the incredible pit bulls and pit bull mixes we have for adoption right now. Take a look at these amazing animals and consider welcoming one of them into your home today!


Junie is an energetic, one year old pit bull mix. She is available at our Berman Center for Animal Care in Westland. She is a bouncy, happy girl, but will settle down when you pet her, because she loves to cuddle!


Boss is a six year old pit bull mix at our Berman Center for Animal Care in Westland. He is a wonderful, loving boy who is best friends with everyone he meets, and very active!


Evie, a four year old pit bull mix, is a sweet and silly girl! You can meet her at our Petco adoption center in Sterling Heights. This girl is very friendly and affectionate.


Butterscotch is a five year old pit bull mix at our Berman Center for Animal Care in Westland. She is being treated for heartworm disease. She is shy but sweet, and loves to snuggle and play with toys.

Already have a pit bull buddy? Then take a minute and share its picture or tell us how he or she lights-up your life.

Thank you in advance for helping MHS be a voice for those who have none!

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO

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A Note From Matthew Pepper on Meatball


We have great news about Meatball!

With the single goal of doing right by Meatball, we are happy to share that today, through the collective efforts of the interested parties, an agreement has been reached to make Meatball’s foster stay with Karen Cameron of Bed & Biscuit Pet Lodge into his forever home.

I’m proud to say that under the agreement, MHS will transfer Meatball’s ownership from Eastpointe to MHS while simultaneously coordinating his adoption by Karen Cameron. By legally becoming Meatball’s owner, and without ever removing him from Bed & Biscuit, MHS will have secured the quickest route to keeping the dog where we know he is already loved.

Since Meatball was the subject of an animal cruelty case (he was evidence), the reality of “leaving him where he is” was more complex than it appeared. His placement could only be permanent if legal processes were followed and completed. MHS’ efforts, behind the scenes and through its legal filings, were critical to resolving these issues in an efficient and legally appropriate manner.

MHS had been working towards today’s positive outcome since day one. Moreover, we maintained the integrity of our position regarding Meatball, despite opinions to the contrary. Sadly, during the last several days, another organization irresponsibly and unprofessionally used social media to mislead many of you.

I’m reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

The facts are this:

  1. MHS always had Meatball’s best interest at heart.
  2. MHS did not actively work to remove Meatball from foster care while collaborative efforts were determining his permanent home.
  3. There was never any intention to bring him back to an MHS shelter.
  4. MHS worked professionally and quietly with prosecutors, Eastpointe officials and legal counsels for ALL parties with one end in mind: keeping Meatball happy and healthy.

When an animal’s well-being is at stake, the professional response is to request clarity on an issue and attempt to contact the involved organizations to ask for as much. This did not occur. Instead, misleading and false information was published and MHS was unfairly discredited.

What’s more, these actions did not help Meatball, nor did they help Bed & Biscuit. Rather, they caused confusion among officials involved in the case and animosity within the advocates who should have been walking alongside one another. The real loser could have been Meatball. Fortunately, he got the second chance he deserves.

We all understand the power of social media. We know it can have a positive impact on animal welfare. But in order to have that impact, we cannot blindly accept what we read as fact. I ask for unity among animal welfare advocates and professional organizations. So much more is possible when we speak as one.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO

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A Note from Matthew Pepper on Cruelty Investigations


Cruelty is hard to understand.

Inflicting pain and suffering on a living creature is something most of us cannot comprehend. How could anyone do this? Whether it is physically beating a dog or tying it in the backyard for a life of solitude and sadness – the result is the same.

It isn’t just the concept of animal cruelty that is hard to understand. The process of addressing the problem can be just as complex and confusing as the idea of animal cruelty itself.

What are some of the legal issues impacting animal cruelty investigations?

Perhaps the hardest part is that we have to simultaneously consider the victim both a living creature and evidence. The implications of this can be far reaching. Whether we like it or not (and at MHS we assuredly do not) animals are property according to the law. Regardless of the crime committed by an owner, that person does not lose ownership of that property unless either surrendered or adjudicated by the court. It is not uncommon for court cases to occur months, even years, after arrest or any charges. If the animal isn’t surrendered – it has to remain without a disposition and cannot be placed or euthanized (absent irremediable pain and suffering).

The concept of animals as property is ingrained in our laws. There are other laws that impact the investigation of animal cruelty and the outcome for the animals involved. Let’s take dog fighting as an example; dog fighting is a horrific act of unspeakable cruelty. We have all heard stories of dogs being adopted or rehomed after arrests in dog fighting investigations – for example; the Michael Vick case. In Michigan, this is statutorily not permissible. Michigan does not allow a person to own a dog used for fighting. In fact , the law (MCLA 750.49) states that “[a] humane society or other animal welfare agency that receives an animal under this section shall apply to the district court or municipal court for a hearing to determine whether the animal shall be humanely euthanized because of its lack of any useful purpose and the public safety threat it poses.” In Michigan, euthanasia is the only legal outcome for dogs taken in as part of a dog fighting operation.

As professionals in animal welfare, we must adhere to the laws that exist or we compromise the integrity of our organizations, the legal process, and any possibility for justice and action against those that caused the suffering. Adhere to the laws or change them; which is why the Michigan Humane Society is spearheading legislation that would allow each animal to be evaluated individually and offers hope for placement (HB 4765).


What is the impact of cruelty on the animals and on what happens to them?

The public often only see these animals from the outside as victims – perhaps from a short video on the news or a picture on social media. Through that emotion, we forget that any subsequent placement, if allowed by law or the courts, would still have to be responsible and safe. These animal victims have been the subject of incredible suffering often for extended periods of time. This often means the animal is unsocialized and unsound and cannot be placed. Animal behavior is a product of their owner and environment but that does not make them any less dangerous. All who care about animal welfare and public safety must take this into consideration while working to ensure that those responsible are never able to inflict this kind of irrevocable suffering again. As heartbreaking as it is, the end is not always a positive one. Yet we must take solace knowing that animal suffering has ended in instances where the victims are not able to be responsibly placed. That is not to say it can’t happen – in fact, at MHS, we put every resource into working with the subjects of animals cruelty. Many of our placements were at one point the subjects of an animal cruelty or neglect investigation. We have given thousands of victims new lives.

The timing and nature of an outcome for these animals is often more complex that one might think. There are often multiple organizations, court systems, attorneys and other interested parties involved. All of which may have authority over all or some of the aspects of the case including disposition of the animal. In a multi-agency investigation, the outcome, when and if an animal can be released and perhaps even to whom, often stands with the enforcement or investigating agency rather than the housing agency. At MHS, we both investigate acts of cruelty and act as a support organization to others.

Can social media interfere with animal cruelty investigations?

Social media is immediate and can add to the complexity of animal cruelty investigations. It is also without accountability and, frankly, it is often without facts. Animal cruelty cases can go on for an extended period of time and often involve much more complexity and detail than can be divulged to the public. Revealing these details can significantly compromise, or at times eliminate, any case against a potential offender and could lead to the return of the animal to an abusive situation. On Facebook, for example, the immediate calls for “justice” or “humanity” in a particular case are driven by the assumption that the source of the information has all the facts necessary to make an informed, rational, decision. This is rarely the case.

We all understand the motivation and emotion behind angry pleas for action on social media. But this tactic is often misguided. Using social media to invoke a public outcry without facts is irresponsible. Further, it often causes unfortunate and inappropriate knee-jerk responses by involved agencies in an effort to avoid misguided public criticism. As an example; if there are pleas to return a dog to an owner, based on partial information, and an organization involved in the case is hesitant to do so we must take in to consideration that there is more information available to the parties actively involved in the investigation.

What is MHS’ role in investigating animal cruelty?

One of our core competencies at the Michigan Humane Society is to investigate and address acts of animal cruelty. We have been doing this for 139 years and our Cruelty Investigations Division investigates thousands of cases of animal cruelty every year. We will always adhere to the law and take action in the best interest of the animals.  It is incumbent that we, as animal advocates, trust that professional organizations investigating animal cruelty have the best interest of the animals in mind. It is easy to be guided to an opinion by partial facts but better to be guided by a principal and all the facts. We, at MHS, are driven to end animal cruelty and to find justice in every situation we are faced with.

I have worked almost 20 years in animal welfare and a majority of my experience involves animal cruelty investigations. I was an animal cruelty investigator at the Humane Society of Kent County (now the Humane Society of West Michigan); I was an Animal Control Officer and supervisor for Kent County Animal Control. I oversaw animal control departments in Louisiana, Tennessee and New Mexico. I teach courses on complex animal cruelty investigations to police officers and have done so in several states. In New Mexico I began a formal animal cruelty task force, the P.E.T. Project, with the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (actually the subject of a new book). Much of my career has been focused on investigating, responding to, and pro-actively addressing animal cruelty in our communities.

Animal cruelty infuriates me. It cannot, and will not, be acceptable as long as I – and our team here at MHS – have anything to do about it. We have incredible partners who walk alongside us in combatting animal cruelty in this State. Not the least of which is you – without your support none of our work addressing animal cruelty would be possible. You make it possible for us to be a voice for those in need. Thank you.


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A Statement on Community Cats


Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center, according to reports published by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, saves more animals than any other municipal shelter in the state of Michigan. We are, and remain, partners in animal welfare alongside them.

The Michigan Humane Society, however, strongly opposes their stance on community cats.

Oakland County euthanizes feral cats and those not selected for adoption citing animal welfare and public safety concerns. MHS believes that community cat programs are viable alternatives to euthanasia.

Adoption should always be the preferred outcome for every animal, but that is not always a possibility. Sometimes a healthy cat is unsocialized or otherwise temperamentally unsuitable for a home, and in those instances, research has shown that death need not be the only possible outcome. Community cat programs are sustainable, effective, and a lifesaving outcome when adoption isn’t appropriate. 

Historically, it was thought that community cat programs would spread disease, lead to increased suffering, and were ineffective at controlling stray cat populations. This simply is not true. Animal welfare is an ever evolving field and our practices must evolve with it. MHS believes community cat programs are both humane and effective and should be a part of any progressive animal shelter’s programs. We are here to save lives, and community cat programs do just that.

The outdated method of euthanizing all feral and unsocial cats is ineffective. Unless the environment is changed, these outdated programs simply create a temporary void in which other community cats, typically unsterilized and unvaccinated, will soon fill. It does nothing to reduce population and does nothing to create healthier populations.

No more harm occurs in a community when a sterilized and vaccinated cat is released to where she came from. In fact, if she was owned, she has a better chance of finding her way home through a return-to-field program rather than at an animal shelter where, nationally, the reclaim rate for cats hovers around 2%. In addition, cats as part of a community cat program are vaccinated and sterilized therefore creating a healthier population and one incapable of reproducing.

At MHS, our community cat programs are viable, proven programs designed to save lives. Given what we know about community cats, we have an obligation to incorporate these initiatives into our services. When needed, we evaluate each cat as a candidate for these programs and look at her health, experience outside and behavior, while considering external factors like location, climate and time of year. Community cat programs are beneficial to the community and to the cats.

MHS opposes ineffective philosophies in animal welfare and strongly encourages the Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center to adopt more progressive community cat programs in line with emerging best practices. A municipal animal control department has the overriding responsibility to public safety in addition to a responsibility to the animals. There is no evidence that these policies improve public safety in any way and community cat programs create healthier populations – which will exist at some level anyway – within that community. With no negative impact on public safety, the course of action that should be taken is both the most humane and effective one; that is a progressive community cat program.