Know the Law: Adequate Care

“Adequate care” is a term used to describe the legal minimum provisions an animal must have provided to them by their owner/caretaker.  These minimums are definable requirements, and Animal Enforcement Officers heavily refer to Adequate Care standards to determine if an owner is, or is not, being negligent.  The definition of adequate care is specific and clearly outlines an animal’s needs, however it’s also loose enough to fit every type of animal in every type of lifestyle.  The law is written so that the same law that would apply to an indoor cat in a downtown high-rise would also protect herds of cattle in the “country”.

Kalamazoo County is a mixture of busy city and slow, quiet country.  From the Kalamazoo Mall downtown, to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns like Fulton, animals can be found in every corner.  How is it possible that one law could suit the needs of such a variety of animals?  Let’s break it down piece by piece to see how this law is applied in varied situations.

“Adequate care” means the provision of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise, and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health.

Empty food bowl in debris near dog houseFood:  There is no specific type of food that must be fed, although veterinarians and  pet experts will tell you its important to feed food of good nutritional content that was specifically meant for the type of animal you’re feeding.  If you have a cat, buy cat food; if you have a dog, buy dog food.  Your veterinarian can help you find the right food for your pet if you’re having a hard time choosing, and most local pet store staff can get you started on a food that will meet the needs of your pet.  Some pets can eat the least expensive food with no problems, while other pets may start having hair loss, skin inflammation, ear infections and other signs of food allergies. 

Water:  Hydration is essential.  An animal can survive for days without food before any serious complications occur, but dehydration can become fatal much sooner.  If the owner isn’t giving the dog water in the winter and the dog is eating snow, does that count as sufficient?  It does.  If the animal is maintaining a state of good health and doesn’t appear dehydrated, there is no requirement to force the owner to provide water if the dog is getting adequate water from the elements.  I’m not saying it’s right, but an officer wouldn’t be able to charge the owner with neglect if the animal doesn’t appear to be neglected or isn’t unhealthy as a result of the owners lack of provisions.

Shyla with Dog House, Empty Bowl, Debris and Trash all Over
Shelter: 
Shelter means adequate protection from the elements and weather conditions suitable for the age, species, and physical condition of the animal so as to maintain the animal in a state of good health.  This portion of the law is broken into two parts:  Livestock and Dogs.

Shelter, for livestock, includes structures or natural features such as trees or topography.  This means that horses, cows, and other livestock do not need a barn or lean-to.  If the property has a significant tree line, that will be considered adequate shelter.

Shelter, for a dog, includes 1 or more of the following:
(i) The residence of the dog’s owner or other individual.
(ii) A doghouse that is an enclosed structure with a roof and of appropriate dimensions for the breed and size of the dog. The doghouse shall have dry bedding when the outdoor temperature is or is predicted to drop below freezing.
(iii) A structure, including a garage, barn, or shed, that is sufficiently insulated and ventilated to protect the dog from exposure to extreme temperatures or, if not sufficiently insulated and ventilated, contains a doghouse as provided under subparagraph (ii) that is accessible to the dog.

Sanitary Conditions:  This means space free from health hazards including excessive animal waste, overcrowding of animals, or other conditions that endanger the animal’s health. This definition does not include any condition resulting from a customary and reasonable practice pursuant to farming or animal husbandry.  Basically, keep it clean and free of debris.  If a dog has been outside all summer long chained near its dog house, it’s reasonable to expect the owner to clean that area up.  If the owner fails to clean up at least several times a week, the area will quickly fill with feces, forcing the dog to eat and sleep in close proximity to its own feces.  Livestock standards are different, however and Officer can still determine if a situation is acceptable or not.  Barns and other areas that hold livestock may have more “muck” inside, especially nearing the end of winter and into spring, however these areas do still need to be maintained properly.

Exercise:  So many times I hear people describe the neglect of the neighbors dog, stating it’s let outside an no one ever takes it for a walk or plays with it.  It may not be how you would treat your pet, but if the animal looks healthy, there isn’t any legal neglect happening.  Some animals like horses MUST be exercised, but the physical needs of animals do vary quite a bit from one species and breed to another.  Every owner needs to be fully aware of the physical demands of a pet or animal before getting one.  Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can become destructive or show more aggressive behaviors.  Horses that aren’t exercised properly can become harder to control or depressed, and even have digestive or circulation problems as a result.

Veterinary Medical Attention:  Humans need doctors; animals need vets.  If your pet is sick or isn’t acting right, it’s important to have a veterinarian take a look to diagnose the problem.  Your animal can’t tell you what the problem is, but your vet is trained to get to the bottom of whatever is causing your pet to act abnormally.

The kicker here is the very last part of the adequate care statement:  “…to maintain a state of good health.”  This means that whatever an owner has provided for food, water, sanitary conditions, exercise and veterinary medical attention, the animal must be in a state of good health.  If the animal is sickly, underweight, losing its hair, or otherwise showing signs of poor health, there is an assumption that one or more of the legal provisions is lacking and something needs to be adjusted.

If an owner has two dogs but one dog is showing signs of allergies to the food the dogs are eating, even though he is meeting the food provision of the law he is not maintaining a state of good health.  Even though the owner is providing food, it isn’t considered “adequate care” if he fails to provide the dog with allergies a different food and veterinary medical attention if needed.

Whenever you have a question about the health or safety of an animal, you should certainly contact your local Animal Services department.  Having an expert out to see the conditions of the animal can help determine if adequate care is being provided.  If any problems are apparent, the Officer has the authority to mandate improvements or take further action.

The most important thing to take away from the Adequate Care law is that it allows for large variances in how people take care of their pets and animals, but in the end, the animal must be in a state of good health.  If the owner isn’t adjusting his/her care of the pet to fit the needs of the animal, the animal is not being provided adequate care.

To view the complete law, visit the Michigan Legislature website and read MCL 750.50.

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