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A new ballot initiative seeks to create a registry of convicted animal abusers in Michigan

Jennifer Bahm hugs her rescue dog Apollo. Apollo is a golden retriever.
Jenn Bahm
Jenn Bahm rescued Apollo two years ago from a puppy mill. Apollo suffers from chronic anxiety due to his upbringing.

The Protect MI Pet ballot initiative seeks to hold people accountable for mistreating or abusing animals. Currently, an instance of animal cruelty can involve a misdemeanor charge, up to 93 days in jail, a hefty fine and community service.

Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson doesn’t think the law does enough to prevent abuse from happening again. He says the initiative would change the state constitution to keep animals who may be experiencing abuse away from those owners.

“When someone is convicted of an animal abuse crime, they are now going to be put on the registry, should the people vote for it, that now everybody can search if they're going to adopt an animal,” he said.

Swanson has been spearheading the initiative since last year. He says working as a sheriff has allowed him to witness first-hand the kinds of abuse some animals are exposed to.

“The first thing is to close that civil process loop. It treat animals like living property. Right now, the law states that they're property like couches and toasters, that’s not right,” he said.

Legally, animals in the state of Michigan are considered property. Before 1871, animals were not protected from abuse or harm inflicted by humans.

Jenn Bahm knows about that abuse too well. Two years ago, she adopted a golden retriever mix who grew up in a puppy mill. She says her dog named Apollo suffers from overwhelming daily anxiety.

“Literally for five months out of his two and a half years of life, he was abused,” she said. “Still we are working on him through that trauma. I think that that's something in a way that's always going to be with him.”

When Bahm first adopted Apollo, she says he was so fearful of everything even the dark.

“We had to put lights on for him. Even just something so simple as feeding him, like it took months to find a type of food he liked because I don't think that he was regularly being fed,” she explained.

Bahm says she plans to vote in favor of the proposal if it ends up on her ballot in 2024.

“I think more people need to be made aware of the ramifications of abuse on animals because it's something that it sticks with them for their whole life,” she added.

The proposal would also ensure animals are removed from potential abusers within 22 days if probable cause is found. Those convicted for the mistreatment or abuse would also be placed on a public registry for a specified period, according to the ballot’s initiative website.

The initiative needs to collect more than 400,000 signatures to appear on the November 2024 ballot.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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