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The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



Opinion No. 6024

January 12, 1982


Killing of dog running at large by county animal officer


Killing by county animal control officer

A county animal control officer may not summarily kill a dog because the dog is running at large and unaccompanied by its owner.

Anthony A. Monton

Prosecuting Attorney

Oceana County

Hart, Michigan 49420

You have requested my opinion on the following question:

May a county animal control officer who observes a dog running at large and unaccompanied by its owner or keeper, who has been unsuccessful in determining the owner or keeper of the dog and unable to catch the dog after reasonable efforts, legally kill the dog without a court order?

The Dog Law of 1919, 1919 PA 339; MCLA 287.261 et seq; MSA 12.511 et seq, provides for the licensing and regulation of dogs. Pursuant to that statute the owner of a dog is required to obtain an annual license for the dog by paying the applicable fee. (1) A dog owner who fails to obtain the requisite license may be prosecuted and suffer imposition of a fine or imprisonment, or both, pursuant to 1919 PA 339, supra, Sec. 26, which provides in pertinent part:

'Any person or police officer, violating or failing or refusing to comply with any of the provisions of this act shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall pay a fine not less than $10.00 nor more than $100.00, or shall be imprisoned in the county jail for not exceeding 3 months, or both such fine and imprisonment. . . .'

See OAG, 1952-1954, No 1761, p 321 (April 15, 1954).

A county animal control officer may be employed by the county to enforce the provisions of 1919 PA 339, supra. In 1919 PA 339, supra, Sec. 4, the Legislature has conferred the following authority:

'[An] animal control officer or a law enforcement officer of the state shall issue a citation, summons or appearance ticket for a violation of this act.'

There is no provision in 1919 PA 339, supra, which empowers an animal control officer summarily to kill a dog merely because it is running at large, unaccompanied by its owner. (2)

Youngblood v Jackson County, 28 Mich App 361; 184 NW2d 290 (1970), lv den, 384 Mich 810 (1971), considered the authority of a county with respect to stray dogs, pursuant to 1919 PA 339, supra, as follows:

'[t]he authority to kill unlicensed dogs must be exercised with some judgment, . . . An element of that judgment is holding a dog for a period after obtaining it before disposing of it. . . .

'[d]efendant's pleadings indicate that unclaimed, unlicensed dogs found running at large are disposed of but licensed stray dogs are held for the owners. This conduct we find to be in compliance with the county's statutory obligation as interpreted by Finley, supra. Both courses of action require a place for confining dogs pending their disposition.' [Emphasis added.] 28 Mich App at 365.

Thus, 1919 PA 339, supra, as interpreted in Youngblood v County of Jackson, supra, contemplates holding a stray dog for some period prior to disposing of it.

A procedure for an animal control officer to follow is set forth in 1919 PA 339, supra, Sec. 26a(1)(a), (e) and (2):

'(1) A district court magistrate or the district or common pleas court shall issue a summons similar to the summons provided for in section 20 to show cause why a dog should not be killed, upon a sworn complaint that any of the following exist:

'(a) After January 10 and before June 15 in each year a dog over 6 months old is running at large unaccompanied by its owner or is engaged in lawful hunting and is not under the reasonable control of its owner without a license attached to the collar of the dog.

(e) A dog duly licensed and wearing a license tag has run at large contrary to this act.

'(2) After a hearing the district court magistrate or the district or common pleas court may either order the dog killed, or confined to the premises of the owner. . . .' (3)

Consideration must also be given to the definition of 'owner' as set forth in 1919 PA 339, supra, Sec. 1(2)(c) as follows:

'(2) For the purpose of this act:

(c) 'Owner' when applied to the proprietorship of a dog means every person having a right of property in the dog, and every person who keeps or harbors the dog or has it in his care, and every person who permits the dog to remain on or about any premises occupied by him.'

An unlicensed dog found to be running at large may also constitute a public nuisance, 1919 PA 339, supra, Sec. 17. If the owner failed to claim the dog after it had been held for a period of time in accordance with Youngblood v Jackson County, supra, such an unlicensed dog may be killed after observing the procedures in 1919 PA 339, Sec. 26a, supra.

It is my opinion, therefore, that an animal control officer is not authorized summarily to kill a dog merely because it is running at large unaccompanied by its owner. However, a summons may be issued pursuant to the 1919 PA 339, supra, to show cause why the dog should not be killed. After a hearing, the court may either order the dog confined to the premises of its owner or killed.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

(1) The details of the licensing procedure need not be reviewed to answer your question. Moreover, those details may vary from one locality to another as the Dog Law of 1919, supra, Sec. 30 authorizes a city, village or township to adopt its own animal control ordinance to license and regulate dogs.

(2) You have not raised, and this opinion does not address, the situation where a dog is attacking or molesting livestock or wildlife or is attacking people. See Dog Law of 1919, supra, Secs. 18 and 19.

(3) 1969 PA 287, MCLA 287.331 et seq; MSA 12.481(101) et seq, provides for the registration of 'animal shelters' defined by Section 1(d) as:

'A facility operated by a person, humane society, a society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or any other nonprofit organization for the care of homeless animals.'

If, for example, no owner of a dog may be located, it would presumably be within the discretion of the court to permit the voluntary surrender of the dog to an animal shelter as an alternative to killing it.


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