A requestor in Michigan recently contacted the Network with concerns regarding animal control management since stray and wild animals can pose a public health threat. Animal bites can spread rabies and some animals can cause injuries. Because the county in which the requester lived lacked funding for an animal control agency, the requester wanted to know who is responsible for providing animal control and animal quarantine services.
The Network explained that a Michigan county is authorized, but not required, to create an animal control agency. If a county board of commissioners chooses to create an animal control agency or appoint an animal control officer, it can place the agency/officer in the sheriff’s department, the local health department, or any other existing county department. MCL 287.276; MCL 287.289a. A city or township may also create its own animal control agency, in which case that agency shall have jurisdiction over animal control within the city or township. MCL 287.290. See also MCL 287.289a.
If the board of county commissioners does not create an animal control agency, the responsibility for enforcing the Dangerous Animals Act, MCL 287.321 et seq., and the Dog Law, MCL 287.261 et seq., and for otherwise protecting the public from dangerous animals, falls to the county sheriff for cities and townships where the sheriff provides law enforcement services. This is because the county sheriff has a general responsibility to “enforce those laws enacted by the people for the protection of their lives, persons, property, health, and morals.” See Brownstone Township v. Wayne Cnty, 68 Mich. App. 244, 249 (Mich. Ct. App. 1976).
Finally, animal bites that may have resulted in exposure to rabies must be reported to the local health department and handled in accordance with the most recent compendium of animal rabies control. Mich. Admin. Code R. 325.180. A local health officer is authorized to conduct an investigation, if indicated. In the absence of an animal control agency or officer, law enforcement would be expected to provide necessary support in protecting the public.
The most recent Compendium of Animal Rabies Prevention and Control promotes the use of licensing laws to ensure that dogs are vaccinated against rabies. The Dog Law of 1919 mandates that a dog owner annually obtain a dog license tag. MCL 287.262; 287.266. The county treasurer obtains license tags from the state, and provides them to township and city treasurers. MCL 287.265, 287.274. Townships and cities carry out licensing activities, unless the county treasurer agrees to handle licensing activities for them. See MCL 287.274. To obtain a license, the owner must provide a valid certificate of a current vaccination for rabies. See MCL 287.266(5). Again, in the absence of animal control, the Sheriff or other law enforcement would need to enforce licensing requirements. In addition, the county treasurer may identify and locate unlicensed dogs, in which case he/she must provide a list of all unlicensed dogs to the county prosecutor, who shall proceed against owners for violating the Dog Law. MCL 287.277.
Network attorneys are available to answer questions on this and other public health topics at no cost to you, and can assist you in using law to advance your public health initiatives. Contact a Network Attorney in your area for more information.
The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.