I can’t imagine anyone answering “yes.” Most know even the nicest, most loving shelters, like HSHV, are not suitable homes. Long-term sheltering, where an animal spends most of their day caged, is damaging both physically and mentally.

That’s why Michigan has an animal forfeiture law. To protect animal cruelty victims from further suffering, a prosecutor’s office can request a hearing that’s presided over by a judge who reviews the evidence, and decides if the animals can be released for adoption while the slow wheels of justice turn.

However, many Michigan counties, including Washtenaw County, don’t pursue animal forfeiture.

At HSHV, this has resulted in 45 cruelty-case animals currently in our care. Some have been with us nearly four years, including puppies who’ve grown up here.

Together, these case animals have received over 20,000 days of care. In this timewe could have helped at least 1000 other animals. At roughly $45/day for care, we’ve incurred $900,000. This is a waste of community resources and tragic for the victims and all the other animals who can’t be helped.

Take a dog we’ll call Charlie. Charlie was tied to a doorknob in an empty apartment with a tether so short he couldn’t even lie down. He sat in his own filth. He was skin and bones. He yelped and whined until someone complained to the landlord, who then called HSHV.  We immediately took the abandoned dog, gave him medical care, and tons of TLC. Cruelty Investigators and veterinarians wrote a report for the prosecutor’s office to decide whether they’ll press charges.

Our report writing might take a few weeks because the animals themselves are typically the evidence of the crime. Their bodies tell us what they cannot. For instance, one way to prove that a dog was intentionally starved is by feeding him and showing his weight gain over time. This preempts a claim that weight loss was caused by illness or refusal to eat.

Once all exams, reports, and needed treatment are complete, the animals are free to go. Charlie could move on to the happy life he deserves. Hypothetically.

After our report is submitted, however, it can take months for the prosecutor’s office to determine charges and years for a case to reach a final resolution. Add to that defendants who simply don’t show up to court and arrest warrants ignored, and animals like Charlie can get stuck in limbo for a large portion of their short lives.

Sometimes we’re fortunate to have foster homes for our cruelty-case animals. But imagine being such a foster. You might have an animal in your home for years with the chance of having to return them to their abuser, even if they are found guilty. This is cruel to people and animals.

You’ve likely seen the news about overcrowded shelters nationwide. The impacts of COVID, economics, and the national veterinary shortage are crushing shelters. At HSHV, we have a long list of animals waiting to get into the shelter and a long list of shelter animals waiting for a foster home.

There’s a lot we can’t control, but we can do something about cruelty-case animals who deserve homes.

I’ve heard animal forfeiture depicted as a social injustice for human defendants. While defendants can pay bond to avoid forfeiting their animal, there is concern over fairness for those with low incomes. It’s not fair. However, rich or poor, people make choices when they decide to abuse, neglect or abandon an animal. These aren’t cars on an impound lot. They are living, feeling beings who deserve better.

Plus, owners okay with their animals sitting in a shelter for years remind me of that King Solomon story about the two mothers fighting over one baby.

If someone truly loves their animal, they want them to be happy.

It’s also worth noting that we aren’t dealing with heavy-handed enforcement. Sadly, animal cruelty is vastly under-reported, under-investigated, under-prosecuted, and barely punished. We have a criminal justice system that, despite mounds of evidence that animal abusers pose a threat to the rest of society, still doesn’t take cruelty seriously.

Admittedly, the animal forfeiture law needs improvement, and there is a move to do so, in part by making forfeiture hearings automatic. But that requires state legislative action, and I’m not holding my breath.

We have a tool now, and we should use it.

The system is surely swamped. But “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Right now, animals are essentially the only ones paying the price for their abuse. This is a true injustice.

Animal forfeiture should be standard in Washtenaw County and everywhere else.

Yours in the struggle,