Protecting Adoptable Pets in Michigan

Michigan's Sodomy Controversy Earlier This Year May Have Caused Further Problems

BY TODD A. HEYWOOD

In April of 2012, a Michigan State University medical student accepted a plea deal for killing at least 12 Italian greyhound puppies. The puppies, contemporary reports said, were ordered from out of state puppy mills and Andrew Thompson, then 25, would kill the animals and dispose of their bodies in a nearby dumpster.

He was sentenced to five years on probation, and given credit for the 107 days he served in jail awaiting trial. As part of his probation he was expected to work at least 30 hours a week and maintain mental health care. He was also prohibited from having contact with pets.

But when his probation ends in 2017, Thompson could walk into any humane society, animal shelter or rescue group in the state and adopt a dog, cat or other pet; and it's pretty unlikely anyone at those nonprofits would have any idea he had been convicted of killing a dozen puppies. State lawmakers say those who abuse animals -- either physically beating them, neglecting them, fighting them or having sex with them -- should be barred from accessing pets in the future.

For bill sponsor and state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, his background as a former county sheriff plays into his support for the legislation.

"Many of the worst, most horrible serial killers started out as animal abusers," Jones noted in an interview. "The FBI has actually begun tracking people convicted of animal abuse so that when and if they have serial murders, they have a suspect pool."

Jones has been trying for four years to pass a package of bills that would create a list of those convicted of such crimes. It's called Logan's Law, named after a Siberian Husky that was splashed with battery acid and eventually died of complications from the wounds sustained in that attack. Two bills in the package originated in the state House, and two originated in the state Senate. Both chambers have passed their respective bills and passed them to the other chamber.

An earlier version of the legislation would have created a whole new registry system and barred anyone convicted of abusing animals from adopting or owning a pet for life. But Jones and other lawmakers said that proposal was too expensive.

"It was far too expensive and that would have come out of the Michigan State Police budget," said Jones. "And there would be continuing annual costs to maintaining the database as well."

Instead, in consultation with the MSP, Jones, along with his Senate colleague Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren -- who together sponsored the Senate bills -- and House sponsors Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, and Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City, discovered that a database of those convicted of animal abuse already existed.

The MSP hosts an internet system called the Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT). Anyone can use the system for $10. The system keeps a record of all convictions in the state. But Jones and Bieda said the cost of the ICHAT system was too unwieldy for struggling animal nonprofits.

"They're often surviving on a shoestring budget," said Jones.

So the legislation was drafted to give free access to nonprofit humane societies, county animal shelters and rescue groups. Under the legislation, if someone convicted of abusing animals applies to adopt an animal from one of the nonprofit groups, their conviction would pop up in an ICHAT search. If the conviction occurred in the previous five years, the animal abuser would be prevented from adopting the animal.

"The hope is that this will help those people convicted of these crimes get mental health help," Jones said.

The legislation has not been without controversy. When the Senate bills passed the state Senate earlier this year, on a 37 to 1 vote, the Internet exploded with allegations the bill criminalized consensual sodomy in the state. Reporting said the bill contained a provision which strengthened the state's ban on bestiality, which is found in the state's law of "crimes against nature." That law had been used to prosecute consensual gay sex, until a Supreme Court ruling determined sodomy laws were unconstitutional.

Activists painted the legislation as an assault on gays which sponsors, including Bieda and Jones, said was not accurate. The controversy may have caused the Senate bills to be held up in the House, Jones said, as lawmakers wrestle with how to address the controversy. It is possible the legislation could move ahead without adopting changes to the state's bestiality ban, effectively making it possible for a person convicted of bestiality to still gain access to pets through human societies and other nonprofit animal programs.

Jones and Bieda said they were disappointed by the controversy and believe it missed the bigger issue -- protecting animals.

"(Protecting animals) has always been something near and dear to my heart," said Bieda. "This is a chance to protect animals from neglect and abuse."

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