Opinion | Can Michigan at least agree to protect puppies? Apparently not.

Molly Tamulevich is an animal welfare activist who lives in Royal Oak.

Puppies are the common denominator in the world of animal welfare. If we can agree on nothing else, there is consensus that the abuse of a puppy is a bottom line for all but the most depraved. This unwritten rule was thrown out the window last week, however, when Rep. Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville, introduced a pair of bills intended to help an industry that has become synonymous with animal abuse: puppy mills. These two bills are part of a larger strategy by pet store and puppy mill lobbyists to prevent local governments from banning the retail sale of puppies, part of a legislative arms race that has spread across the country. If we don’t act quickly, Michigan may become the latest state to be blindsided by deceptive legislation that undercuts all efforts to protect families looking to add a puppy to their homes.

The Legislation

The bills in question, HB 5916 and HB 5917, aim to do two things: enact state-wide industry practices when purchasing puppies for resale, and prevent local jurisdictions from banning the sale of puppies. These bills, backed by powerful pet store lobbyists (See Ohio’s Petland Bill) are characterized as “Preemption laws” because they aim to preempt any attempts by local government to regulate puppy sales. Preemptive laws have been introduced in Ohio and Arizona (where they passed), and Florida and Georgia (where they failed) . On the surface, they masquerade as animal welfare, pledging to protect puppies by guaranteeing that they are purchased from “USDA licensed breeders” with no current inspection violations. It sounds good on paper, but closer analysis reveals that this standard is nearly impossible to enforce.

In early 2017, all animal welfare databases were removed from the USDA public records. Without filing a Freedom of Information Act request, local law enforcement agencies cannot possibly determine whether a pet store is using a supplier who meets the standards of the proposed law. Not only that, but a quick perusal of what constitutes “USDA Licensed” illustrates just how low the minimum standards are for commercial dog breeding. If this legislation passes, pet stores in Michigan would be able to purchase animals from known puppy mills without any risk of repercussion and local communities won’t be able to fight back by banning them from operating in their jurisdictions. This legislation is classic slight-of-hand. Much like the pet stores themselves, HB5916/HB5917 appeal to our sense of compassion only to sell us a lie. The ultimate goal of this legislation is to prevent Michigan communities from banning the retail sale of puppies at a local level.

Why should we care?

Puppy mills are terrible

The label, “Puppy Mill” became part of the popular lexicon over a decade ago. It refers to large-scale dog breeding facilities that place profits over the welfare of the animals involved. Footage from rescue operations at these facilities shows horrific abuse: hundreds of dogs who have received minimal medical care, sick and dying mothers and puppies, and dogs with crippling injuries caused by standing for years in the same wire-bottomed cage. It is a truly horrific industry, one that exists because they are able to quickly sell their “products” to a network of pet stores that lure customers with the promise of a cute companion, often a trendy designer dog. These pet store puppies are often young, sick, and develop behavioral problems in addition to contributing to the dog overpopulation crisis facing our animal shelters.

The proposed legislation would undermine local laws

In response to growing concern for the welfare of animals trapped in puppy mills, dog lovers have adopted two legal strategies to fight back: stricter laws for breeders (such as Michigan’s Large Scale Breeder law) and local ordinances banning the sale of puppies in pet stores. The latter is what Rep. Vaupel and the industry lobbyists who are behind these bills are trying to prevent. More than 260 localities across the nation have enacted ordinances preventing the sale of commercially produced puppies in pet stores. Some of these include: Cook County Illinois, New York City, the entire state of California, and the Michigan cities of Eastpointe, Frazier, and New Baltimore.

The enormous success of this local legislation explains the secrecy, speed, and deceptive language of HB5916/HB5917. Michigan has a vocal, efficient, community of activists who have been tackling problematic pet stores for years. Public support does not lie with puppy mills. The legislation was sent for hearing the day after it was introduced, and a vote is anticipated to be held in conference Wednesday, May 9th. Given the snail’s pace it usually takes to transition from bill to law, it’s obvious that HB5916/HB5917 are being fast tracked to avoid public outcry. The bills’ supporters include a number of pet stores. Groups opposed to the bills include: The Michigan Humane SocietyAttorneys for AnimalsPuppy Mill Awareness of Southeast Michigan, and The Humane Society of the United States, organizations that champion animal welfare.

What you can do

If you are opposed to puppy mills, deceptive legislation, and animal cruelty, it is imperative that you call your representative and urge them to vote no on HB5916/HB5917. These preemptive laws thrive by slipping under the radar, so the more awareness we can raise, the less traction the bills will gain. In a divisive political climate, protecting puppies seems like an issue we should all be able to get behind, so please take the time to let your representatives know that you want to protect puppies, not puppy mills.


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Tue, 05/08/2018 - 8:43am

This is not an honest analysis of the bill. What really is happening is HSUS funded activists are bullying local governments into enacting regulations that make it a practical impossibility for any retail operation to sell puppies. The bills in question codify standards that will ensure that any retailer wanting to sell puppies will be properly regulated and then won't face the loss of their investment when HSUS targets a small local government trying to bully them into driving the store out of business. These are responsible bills that will improve upon the current regulations. Pet lovers should support this legislation.

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 10:08am

Oh get real, Wolverine. Local communities tire of the pet stores selling sick puppies for inflated prices and decide to take action. The Centers for Disease Control just wrapped up an investigation of Petland. Apparently the puppies they sold caused 113 people to get infected with Campylobacter. It's no surprise these puppies are often sick. They are raised in filth and misery. I don't know about you, but I want my local government to be able to protect me from stores that sell puppy mill dogs, lie about the conditions the dogs were raised in, and break the hearts of families who end up with a sick puppy.

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 12:17pm

It amazes me that the GOP who wants less Federal government control and more local control always seems to be doing what it can to prevent local communities from enacting the legislation that the local communities want.

Valerie Sisson
Tue, 05/08/2018 - 3:54pm

I would call if I thought it would do any good My Rep has literally voted for everything that will harm or have a negative effect on health, wealth, and humanity. The greedy selfish blind credo is appalling.

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 8:56pm

What ever happened to local control as a "Republican value". The State has no business telling local governments how to regulate local retail businesses. Lame duck Hank is selling out his values because he can't run again. A better bill would be one forcing transparency, requiring any one selling puppies in Michigan to have inspection records avaliable to the public from all of their sources. That would solve the problem, protect dogs, and people.

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:01am

When 'local control' becomes a vehicle for activists to unreasonably restrict commerce, that does conflict with 'Republican Values'. How does the State have 'no business telling local governments how to regulate local retail businesses'?!? Local governments are subdivisions of the state government. They absolutely have the 'business' and the duty to take action when necessary.

Robert Crawford
Thu, 05/10/2018 - 10:08am

If by "commerce" you mean peddling puppy mill puppies, then no restriction is unreasonable. I rescued a breeding dog from a puppy mill (or as HB 5916 refers to them as "qualified breeder") and I've seen firsthand the effect of the abuse suffered by dogs in puppy mills. It's heartbreaking.
Take a minute and consider what you believe to be a "qualified breeder". Now ask yourself, does that breeder need a puppy store to sell their puppies? If you know anything about responsible breeding of dogs, you would know that responsible breeders would NEVER use a puppy store to sell their puppies. Never.

You encourage what you tolerate.

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 9:24am

Robert, Please give more information on your "rescue". Was it from a USDA licensed breeder?

Cindy Miller
Mon, 05/14/2018 - 6:44pm

We owned a pet store and sold puppies. We worked directly with breeders, and begged AKC to help when we saw evidence of overbreeding. They refused. These laws are missing the point. We found many local breeders who should not have bred their animals for resale. The conditions for their pets were not healthful. These owners were open to corrections and guidance with help. We also found wonderful owners who loved their breeds and provided amazingly wonderful care. Perhaps we simply need more oversight on this industry. We would rather see laws banning of sales of animals for pets altogether as a business both privately and publically than a half-baked thoughtless ban with a general application. Too broad a brushstroke . For many people going into the local pet shop where owners also purchase their pet supplies, is the only trusted place they know to go for specific breeds. On the other hand there are plenty of wonderful pets ready to be adopted at your local animal shelter.