LANSING, Mich.—Tye, Walter and Bubbles were only three of the dozens of canines that came to support Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson‘s Protect MI Pet ballot initiative. Michiganders and their companions gathered around the state capitol building to kick off the initiative on April 11, National Pet Day.
Protect MI Pet is a ballot proposal planned to be on the 2024 state ballot and will allow Michigan voters to decide whether or not to create a public registry of convicted animal abusers similar to the sex offender registry. This will prevent abusers from animal ownership for a period of time.
It will also allow animals to be placed in adoptive homes after 22 days while their abusers stand trial.
“Not only are we going to put people on our registry that are convicted of animal abuse, neglect and torture, so they can’t go shop around and get another dog, cat or a companion animal, we’re also going to close that loophole that within 22 days of the first hearing, those animals are rehomed to people like you and people like those behind me,” Swanson said.
Bubbles, a blind beagle, and his owner Staci Elliott have a social media campaign dedicated to anti-bullying. They share the belief that humans and animals should be treated with compassion and empathy, which is why they came to support the initiative.
“We do rescue, and we’re sick of the abused animals coming in. We’re sick of the cruelty and neglect and having them sit in shelters and in our care for an excessive amount of time while they await prosecution for the abuse that they went through,” Elliott said.
According to the peer-reviewed research cited by Protect MI Pet on their website, there is a “clear and proven link between animal abuse and domestic violence.”
Seventy-five percent of abused women who have companion animals report a history of their companion animal being threatened or intentionally harmed by their intimate partner, with children being present and witnessing the violence over 90% of the time. Additionally, a review of school shootings from 1988 to 2012 found that 43% of the shooters had histories of animal cruelty.
“As a police officer for 30 years working with my friends behind me, we know that if you’re going to beat, starve or torture animals to death, there’s a great chance you’re going to do it to another domestic partner. Your wife, your husband, your child or an elder. You may do it to somebody completely innocent at a school, at a church or at a bank. There is a direct connection between animal abuse, and abuse and violence towards people,” Swanson said.
Big Lake Humane Society shelter manager Velvet Lyght and canine care coordinator Tyler Aviano brought Walter and Tye along to the rally. Walter and Tye are two of the 78 dogs that were rescued from former animal rescue owner Lisa Cober’s unfit living conditions inside her home in Norton Shores earlier this year.
Big Lake Humane Society takes care of 15 of the rescued dogs and Lyght estimated $450 a day to take care of the 15 dogs that have been in their care for 70 days.
“We definitely support initiatives like this. Part of it is 70 days in our care is too long when they could be in homes. Having a 22-day maximum for mandatory forfeiture of evidence for these guys would go a long way,” said Lyght. “It keeps us from being able to help other animals, and it does stretch our resources thin. We’ve spent over $20,000 on these dogs alone since they came in.”
Because the Cober’s dogs are being held as evidence they can not be adopted until Cober gives up her rights as their pet owner. The circuit court judge assigned to the case will soon decide if Cober will have to forfeit her ownership rights before trial, but neither dates for the ownership hearing nor the trial have been set yet.
“Taking in a number of the dogs from Cober’s and really just being on the frontlines of it. It’s been hard to see all these animals come through. It’s been rewarding though seeing a lot of them bounce back. You’re not seeing as much stress or lingering side effects from the situation that they came from, which is great,” said Aviano. “Seeing all the people here, ready to support this bill. It’s just nice to see that there are people that are not even there and seeing it firsthand. They understand that this is something that needs to happen and needs to change.”
The Protect MI Pets proposal first has to be passed by lawmakers. If that fails, Swanson needs 750,000 signatures to get it on the 2024 ballot.
“We need to have a great conversation with our legislators. Put it on the ballot and let the people decide. I’m going to tell you, I don’t think I’m the only one that believes this is going to pass. And it’s going to pass overwhelmingly. So join the side of right,” Swanson said to supporters at the rally.