SBM Animal Law Section holds Symposium

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The 2011 Animal Law Symposium, held on April 21st at Cooley Law School, opened with the presentation of the Sadie Award to Suzanne Boukamp, Janie Duca, Paula Gonzales, Kelli Mink and Michelle Reimer for their work with the West Michigan Society of the Protection and Care of Animals (WMSPCA), bringing it back to its original mission of caring for cats and kittens. They received the award, which recognizes the efforts of ordinary citizens on behalf of animals, because "during the past three years they saved numerous other animals including bears, horses, a steer, pigs, goats, rabbits and a handful of exotic animals from a sanctuary that had become anything but a safe home for animals," said Margo Miller, animal law section counsel member, who conducted the ceremony.

This year's conference covered topics of interest to both attorneys and non-attorneys. Anna Scott, Scott Law Firm, section Chairperson, introduced the first speaker, Suzanne M. Dugas, speaking on Pet Trusts."

Dugas explained that historically only useful animals were considered property and subject to taxation. Pets had no intrinsic value. After 1990, with the revision of the Uniform Probate Code, pet trusts were legally enforceable. Forty-four states enacted pet trust statutes including Michigan. In 2010, Michigan Pet Trust Statute under EPIC was adopted. (MCLA 700.2722).

Dugas recommended that the "caregiver and the trustee not be the same person. Or consider a trust protector who can come in and say 'something bad is happening here.' The trust continues for the life of the animal, which in the case of some animals can be longer than human life and must be considered."

James Schmier of the Law Offices of James G. Schmier, spoke of representing clients charged with animal hoarding.

"The first case involved Ken who loved Chihuahuas. He had 109 of them running around his house. What really made the story so sensational was that in his basement neatly wrapped in plastic bags and labeled with name and date of death were more in his freezer. The second case was a woman (Pat) in Redford who had 60 animals living in the house. Both cases involved hoarding and both houses had to be destroyed. In both cases the defendants were oblivious to what they were living in."

"The difference between the two," he said, "was that Ken hoarded everything and Patricia only hoarded animals." Ken suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and was mentally impaired while Patricia was normal. Neither of these folks intended to harm the animals."

"These are not normal criminal cases," he said. There is no desire to send the defendants to jail, the intent is to prevent them from owning animals again.

"I decided with Ken's case that this could not be a story about dogs. It had to be about Ken. When I talked to reporters, when they wanted to talk about dogs, I would talk about people. Ken loved these animals. They were well-cared-for and all were adopted. I also decided that Ken would not be a criminal."

"When I came to Ken's house the first time, it was a three ring circus. There was crime scene tape all around it, five of those (TV) trucks with big booms, 25 reporters, videographers, newspaper guys and still photographers there. There were men in haz-mat suits taking stuff out of the house and putting it in the seven or eight dumpsters in the empty lot next door. There were health department officials, building officials, police, city attorney--there was even a guy down the street selling ice cream from his house."

Ultimately Ken was charged with two felony charges. "I didn't want him punished but he couldn't do this again. He was placed on probation with the caveat that he could never have animals again. He now lives in his own apartment."

Patricia's story became an animal story, which led to conviction. He urged those who defend hoarders to keep the focus on the defense of a hoarder not a criminal. "If you don't like the publicity, don't take the cases. Learn to handle the press."

Virginia C.Thomas, librarian, Wayne State University spoke on breed-specific legislation, a "statute or regulation that is directed toward one or more specific breeds of dogs."

Breeds considered dangerous are pit bulls (bully breeds in general), Rottweilers, Dobermans, Dalmations, mastiffs, chows and others. The laws, which can be found in over 500 cities in 39 states plus D.C., are regulated through special registration, restrictions on sale, required spay or neutering or confinement requirements.

"Some of the practical concerns surrounding the laws are 1) effectiveness--do they reduce dog-related injuries, 2) complexity of the law's requirements and 3) the cost of enforcement," Thomas said. Ethical concerns have been raised such as will breed specific laws promote breed-ism? Do behavior characteristics attach to specific breeds? And, is it just to remove a beloved family pet from its home?"

Thomas concluded recommending a breed-neutral approach that would "promote responsible dog ownership, strengthen anti-dogfighting laws, enforce anti-cruelty laws and encourage dog spay/neutering."

Ann Andrews and Angela Brown, co-owners of AnnaBelle's Pet Station in Lansing, both lawyers, opened their business in 2009. Andrews described the process involved in opening a new business. They started the business with an idea--"wouldn't it be wonderful if we could bring our dogs while we worked so we could visit during the day and they weren't in a crate all day."

The immediate problem was finding a space--no one wanted a dog business. They found a property to buy, which required six months of meetings and litigation to get a zoning change. The next problem was financing improvements, which fell through due to the recession. They had to personally finance the improvements. "Eventually we both had to go back to work."

The business has grown. When they started the dog-sitting they started with three dogs three days a week. "I'm happy to say that in December of 2010, we got a huge boost with an article in the Lansing State Journal. Now we are open five days a week, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and average 20 dogs a day."

"Apart from everything else that is happening in our society," she concluded, "the pet industry continues to grow at a rate of six percent a year."

Tom Yeadon, Assistant East Lansing City Attorney, spoke on effective advocacy for ordinance changes. His recommendations included:

* Be brief when addressing city council

* Don't be insulting or go off-track

* Present material in written form prior to meeting

* Show how the ordinance can benefit and not harm the community--for example, the chicken ordinances.

Gayle Rosen of the University of Michigan Student Legal Services spoke on the laws concerning service dogs, which fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Jeff Cruz, Ingham County Prosecutor's Office, concluded the seminar, discussing prosecuting crimes involving animals such as dog-fighting.

The Animal Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM), formed in 1995, is the first law section in the country. Since 2002 the section has held a symposium every year. The Sadie award is named after a dog who was the victim of cruelty by several juveniles who stole him from his fenced yard and tied him to a railroad track where he was killed by a train. Charges were never brought.

Published: Mon, May 9, 2011