Michigan Humane Society

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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.

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A Note from Matthew Pepper on the Old MHS Detroit Building


Earlier this week, I attended the Detroit City Council meeting. One of the last items on the agenda was, in my humble opinion, one of the most important. The Detroit City Council unanimously accepted a gift from MHS – in the form of our old Detroit facility – that will dramatically improve the care for animals at Detroit Animal Care and Control (DACC) which, in turn, will give us the opportunity to impact even more lives. MHS’s old facility will become the new base of operations for DACC once they leave their current building.

While our new facility has incredibly enhanced functionality and is the very definition of state-of-the-art, our previous Detroit shelter has been meticulously maintained and has functional years left. The current DACC facility, at best, fails to meet even the most basic needs of animals. This is about ALL the animals of Detroit and not just those housed at MHS. The functionality remaining in the old facility is best put to use by Detroit Animal Care and Control. In this way it will have the most impact.

This is an incredible time for MHS, the city of Detroit and, more importantly, for the animals we share the city with. We are proud to be working with Detroit Animal Care and Control to save even more animals and create the most effective, functioning and humane model of animal welfare throughout Detroit and the region.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO

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A Note from Matthew Pepper: Animal Cruelty Must Be Taken Seriously

Pet Golden Retriever And Owner Playing Outside Together

You may have seen the recent news regarding two high school students from Grosse Isle High School facing felony animal cruelty charges for slitting the throat of, and then beating a guinea pig with a bat.

In response to the charges, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy stated that, “The alleged facts in this case illustrate much more than a youthful prank or a pre-game antic. We must take these cases seriously.”

We walk the line of not wanting the lives of two young men to be ruined permanently because of “one mistake.” It was clearly a horrible mistake, and whether poor judgment or intentional malice, one that we all need to take seriously. The suffering put upon this animal was inexcusable, and there is an unquestionable correlation between animal cruelty and human violence. It cannot be ignored.

If you would like to learn more about the link between human violence and animal cruelty:
National Link Coalition
National Sheriff’s Association
Animal Legal Defense Fund

What can we take away from this incredibly horrific act?

There is much work to be done. We know that we need to instill compassion for all living creatures – to a level that the thought of torturing an animal for any purpose is unthinkable. We all share the responsibility to speak out against animal cruelty and neglect. We all must be their voice. Humane education and teaching empathy for the animals we share our lives with has been a focal point of the Michigan Humane Society for decades. As we look toward the future, it is critical that these programs become even more robust and impactful.

We must also continue to build upon a basic understanding among law enforcement and government officials of the correlation between animal cruelty and human violence. Prosecutor Worthy’s comments are spot-on. Unfortunately, that level of understanding is not as widespread as we would all want it to be. This is not by intent or ignorance. Law enforcement is overwhelmed with their responsibilities under normal circumstances and, given the current climate in America, it is understandable that they could see these issues as less important.

In reality, animal cruelty is linked to serious violent behavior in our communities, and is a clear indicator of other criminal activity. Whether two-legged or four, victims are victims, and violence is violence. In response to this need, MHS provides a professional training to law enforcement that has been approved by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement.

MHS sincerely hopes that this incredibly heartbreaking incident acts as a catalyst to change. We know that it happened – now, as a community, it is our collective responsibility to stop it from happening again. Regardless of whether animal welfare is an issue close to your heart, individuals who intentionally cause the suffering of any living creature pose a threat to your safety and to your quality of life.

– Matthew Pepper, President and CEO


A Statement Against Breed Specific Legislation


This photo of Diggy with his new adopter started controversy about whether or not Diggy is a “pit bull.” Pit bulls are banned in Waterford Township, the city he now lives in.

Recently, the story of Diggy, an adopted dog, has been in the news due to questions about his breed and the city in which his owner resides, Waterford Township, having restrictions on specific breeds of dogs in their community. The Michigan Humane Society strongly opposes Waterford Township’s stance in supporting breed bans and asks that Diggy be able to remain with his new, adoptive family.

Michigan defines, under MCLA 287.321, a “Dangerous animal” as “a dog or other animal that bites or attacks a person, or a dog that bites or attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under the control of its owner.” Diggy has not engaged in any of these behaviors. He has done nothing but become part of a family.

The public argument now is whether Diggy is an American Bulldog or a pit bull/pit bull mix. That in and of itself is controversial, as a pit bull is not a widely recognized individual breed, and it would depend on where you based the definition. However, the larger issue is this: it shouldn’t matter.

The spirit behind Waterford Township’s pit bull ban is noble: create a safer environment. It is, however, a misguided effort. Breed bans have proven to be, at minimum, ineffective and more appropriately, a misallocation of public resources and trust.

Our position on breed specific legislation is not unique. The ASPCA, The HSUS and the American Veterinary Medical Association all hold similar positions.

Having an officer with the Waterford Township Police allocate time, in response to a situation where a family pet was being nothing more than a family pet is irresponsible and a reaction to misguided perceptions about animal behavior and temperament.

Painting a breed with a broad brush may seem like a viable solution, but it does not address the core issue. While genetics certainly plays a significant role in any dog’s personality, who that dog becomes is influenced primarily by their owner and their environment.

If Waterford Township wanted to truly impact public safety, they would discard the notion of a breed specific ban and focus on real issues involving companion animals and public safety. Officers should be looking at cases of cruelty and neglect (regardless of the breed). Not only is animal cruelty strongly correlated to acts of violence directed at people, but the animals subjected to long-term abuse or neglect often are not appropriately socialized and may develop behavioral characteristics that make them potentially dangerous. In addition, officers must aggressively enforce existing laws, such as those concerning dogs running at large, for example. The fact that a dog is a pit bull is not a problem; however, a pit bull running loose in the streets is a problem, just as it would be a problem if the dog were a Labrador or a golden retriever. It is the actions of the owner that should be held accountable.

The Michigan Humane Society strongly opposes Waterford Township’s breed specific ordinance. It is ineffective, misguided and serves no true purpose other than to perpetuate myths.

The Michigan Humane Society stands firmly behind Dan Tillery and Diggy and would condemn any action to remove him from his loving home absent any violations of existing State law governing dangerous animals.

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Don’t Eliminate Animal Control

Earlier this year, we saw Grand Traverse County remove their two animal control officers from the budget, effectively eliminating animal control from the county. Now, Montcalm County finds itself considering the same course of action.

Elected officials and government leadership have difficult jobs; I know firsthand, having spent a majority of my career within municipal animal care and control departments. These departments are often asked to do what seems like the impossible by balancing services with limited funding. Animal care and control departments and their associated personnel are often seen as low-hanging fruit when it comes to budget cuts. They are, therefore, often the first to get hit when challenging financial times present themselves.

Eliminating or dramatically cutting municipal animal care and control departments is extremely short-sighted and potentially permanently damaging to the health and well-being of the community.

Animal care and control plays a vital role in both public safety and the overall quality of life for each and every community in Michigan.

In the absence of trained, compassionate personnel tasked with responding to animal-related issues in a community, the responsibility will most likely fall to local law enforcement and/or will be taken on independently by citizen volunteers. Neither provides the appropriate level of protection to either the citizens or animals of our communities. Local law enforcement is often not trained in handling or dealing with animals in the field, nor trained to recognize animal cruelty and its subsequent correlation to human violence – a focus point of the Michigan Humane Society’s Law Enforcement Training Program.


While highly compassionate, trained and committed volunteers are the lifeblood of organizations such as MHS, they should not be expected or positioned to take on a municipal, tax-payer funded responsibility. This most often leads to untrained individuals, with little or no oversight, acting in a public safety capacity. Even highly trained law enforcement officers often lack the specific training and expertise needed to handle animal-related issues in an effective, efficient and humane manner.  This is in no way to be seen as a slight on law enforcement or volunteers – they are doing what they need to do to be a resource to their community, but they are simply not properly equipped to do so.

Furthermore, when the number of animals who need care increases due to the lack of an animal control officers and resources, these animals often end up at local animal welfare organizations – nonprofits whose resources are already severely strained.  A community is most effective in caring for their animals when private animal welfare organizations, volunteers, law enforcement personnel, and the local animal control officers are each able to provide their specific services to the community.

Additionally, animal control officers are specifically trained to handle animals in a public safety capacity, and in cases of cruelty. They are uniquely trained in handling animal-related disease issues. For example, animal control officers know the rabies protocols and quarantine procedures designed to keep you safe. Keep in mind that, while uncommon in modern times, rabies still exists and is 100% fatal if not appropriately addressed. Furthermore, animal control officers are trained to address the suffering in neglect and cruelty cases – suffering that would continue to exist if the responsibility fell to those without the training or the authority to address it. The spread of infectious disease and animal victims of violence are, unfortunately, common concerns throughout Michigan, and communities must invest in the resources to appropriately address these situations.


Cutting the programs that protect us from animal-related injury and disease and provide appropriate protection to the community’s animals is a shortsighted solution to the financial issues facing many communities in Michigan. Is there an easy solution? No, there is not. That said, the ramifications of eliminating animal control functions from our communities often reach much farther than one might expect. If we are to provide our communities with appropriate protection, needed public safety, and protection for the animals our citizens clearly care deeply about, we must invest in our animal care and control departments and ensure that they have the tools necessary to be successful.


Matthew Pepper
President and CEO
Michigan Humane Society

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A Note from Matthew Pepper on Animal Surrender


We aim to keep happy families like these together for a lifetime.

Surrendering an animal is hard.

It should be hard. A pet is a commitment and not one to be taken lightly. It can be easy to vilify someone who surrenders an animal.

While it is true that there are people who, frankly, should not own animals and do not value them as companions, many people who come to the Michigan Humane Society to surrender an animal are good, compassionate people in bad situations. Often, I would say it is one of the highest forms of compassion to admit a beloved pet is better served by living with another family.

At the Michigan Humane Society, our intake lobby, more appropriately titled our “second chances center”, is not a place of lost hope, but rather the pathway to various important programs we collectively call “keeping families together” and an introduction to our incredible placement programs.

Let’s start with the process.

When someone makes the difficult decision to surrender an animal to MHS, we schedule an appointment for them. In the time between the call and the appointment, our “keeping families together” programs are mobilized. An MHS representative will contact that person and dig deeper into the situation.

Not “do you want to surrender your pet?” but rather “why are you surrendering your pet?”

Perhaps the person has lost their job, a very real issue in Detroit in recent years, and cannot afford to feed their pet.

Thanks to our generous supporters, community members and our friends at Purina, MHS has a pet food bank for families in need. We can help you.

Perhaps there are behavioral issues the owner feels unable to correct.

MHS has experts in animal behavior that can talk you through various issues. We can help you.

Perhaps there is something medically wrong with your pet, and you don’t know where to turn.

MHS operates three veterinary centers adjacent to our three animal shelters. We have incredibly skilled and compassionate veterinarians. We can help you.

ellie may

Affordable, accessible veterinary care helps family pets stay in their homes.

“Keeping families together” is core to who we are. A true community animal welfare organization does not just function within the walls of a shelter – it functions as part of a community. Keeping animals OUT of even the most advanced shelters and in good, loving homes is just as important as the work we do caring for the animals in our facilities.

Surrendering a pet should, without exception, be a last resort. MHS is not intended to be an organization of convenience. With that said, there are instances for which keeping the pet is not an option. We no longer should view that as the end of the story, but rather the opening of a new chapter.

MHS has an incredible team that provides model care for animals at all of our facilities; from diet, to veterinary care, to socialization, the list goes on. From there, healthy and treatable animals fall into our various placement programs. In 2015, MHS placed more than 11,100 animals. In 2016, we are on pace to place even more and, so far this year, every healthy AND every treatable animal has found a new home!

One might read this and be concerned that I am encouraging people to surrender their animals. This could not be further from the truth. What I am saying is that MHS, and most shelters across the country, have become incredible community resources that are filled with compassionate professionals, hope, and well-managed programs to help address the complex needs of our diverse communities. MHS is committed to “keeping families together” above all and, at our core, we are a place of hope and second chances and a vital resource to the citizens, both two- and four-legged, we serve.