How divisive is Michigan lame duck? Dems and GOP can’t even agree on puppies

Is this puppy sad because he came from a puppy mill, or because some Michigan communities won’t let him be sold in pet shops? It apparently depends on if the pup is a Democrat or a Republican. Welcome to lame duck season in Michigan.

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

This is what the lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature has come to: a heated battle over puppies.

House Bills 5916 and 5917, sponsored by Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville, would stop communities from banning sales of puppies in pet stores. The crux of the debate, however, isn’t about pet stores – it’s about puppy mills.

Some communities have banned pet store sales of puppies because those pups sometimes come from large-scale breeding facilities, some of which treat animals poorly.

Related: Michigan power grabs, pipelines and pot: What we’re tracking in lame duck

In Michigan, there are bans on live pet sales in pet stores in Eastpointe, Memphis, New Baltimore and Fraser.

The bills would establish state standards for pet shops and bar local communities from setting their own standards.

Similar legislation, passed in Ohio and Arizona, and failed in Florida and Georgia.

The bills passed the House Nov. 29, largely along party lines with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposed. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

“I hate those bills,” said Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor.

“Who wants to make it easier to sell puppy mill puppies in a pet shop, without a local community being able to have a say in that? It’s ridiculous.”

Bill sponsor Vaupel could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a guest commentary in Bridge in May, Vaupel said the bills actually raise the standards for pet safety.

“Reputable pet stores want to see the end of puppy mills,” Vaupel wrote. “Groups opposed to the bills claim that they have the same goal, yet instead of working toward a common cause, these groups singular purpose is to put all pet stores out of business.”

Vaupel pointed out the bills require pet stores to only sell puppies from licensed breeders.

The problem with that, said Tanya Hilgendorf, executive director of the Humane Society of Huron Valley, in Washtenaw County, is that federal inspections that are supposed to keep tabs on breeders are a joke.

Tanya Hilgendorf of the Humane Society of Huron Valley: “If we can’t protect puppies, what can we protect?”

“If you believe there are proper regulations on puppy mills, I have a bridge to Hawaii to sell you,” Hildgendorf said. “The USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), which is responsible for puppy mills, does nothing to protect puppies.

“These bills are a bait and switch,” Hilgendorf said. “In exchange for policies on pet stores, we’re going to prohibit local communities from (establishing tougher local policies). I think it’s pretty shocking that our elected officials in a lame duck session are rushing through bills to protect an industry that create sick puppies in an extremely cruel environment.”

Bob Darden of the Michigan Association of Pure Bred Dogs supports the bills. He argues that shelters, such as the one Hilgendorf operates, and small purebred breeders like himself can’t supply all the dogs that families want.

“We want to give the consumer a choice,” Darden said, “whether they go to a shelter to get their dog or a responsible breeder, or having another outlet in going to a licensed pet shop.”

Not all large-scale dog breeders are puppy mills, Darden said. “You can be a bad dog person with one dog, and a perfect dog person with 50 dogs,” he said. “Our position always was about the condition of the kennels.”

That’s the point, Hilgendort said; local communities are trying to curb puppy mills by forbidding the sale of puppies at pet stores; the bills now being considered in lame duck won’t stop puppy mill sales because most of those facilities are already federally licensed and inspected.

“We know that puppy mills keep breeder moms in tiny wire cages,” Hildgendorf said. “The puppies that come out of puppy mills are often sick and have socialization issues.

“If we can’t protect puppies, what can we protect?”

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Kevin Grand
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:05pm

After reading the literal deluge of legislation coming down the pike and getting fast-tracked through committee during the last days of the 99th Legislature, I cannot help but ask why the republicans couldn't have done this much work earlier in the year?

Agnosticrat 2.0
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 10:50pm

Hubris... they thought they would win the mid terms.

Thomas E Graham
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 9:46am

The same reason Democrats don't.

Mon, 12/10/2018 - 10:24pm

"The same reason Democrats don't", really? I thought that the republicans had majority status in both houses, plus a republican governor!! So you're saying that the democrats can actually introduce a bill in either house? That's news to me and everyone else in Michigan.

Tom Lyon
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:58am

They tried in May, Kevin. We were able to muster enough opposition to stop HB 5916/5917 from coming up for a vote. They're trying again during Lame Duck for the usual reasons. Don't be misled. This is strictly about removing local control. That's all the sponsors want. The bills do nothing to assist with the health and welfare of dogs.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 6:19pm

USDA Licensed is STILL a puppy mill. My question is how anyone with a veterinarian degree (Vaupel) could possibly believe that HB5916 & 17 are actually poised to “want to end puppy mills”.
pet store lobbyists are pushing HB5917. They are using scare tactics claiming the bills could close all pet stores with local ordinances (which will not happen). Contrary to popular belief, there is NO licensing, inspections OR regulation of pet stores in Michigan. Most county animal control departments argue the state should be enforcing the pet shop laws, while the state dropped their program ten years ago. The sponsor of the bill stated they are USDA licensed, which is not true.

These are not animal welfare bills. 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 impossible to enforce!

-These bills would not require pet store licensing or inspections. Michigan pet stores are NOT currently licensed OR inspected by ANY agency.

-Local enforcement of the pet stores is not going to ensure breeders in distant states follow the highest standards when breeding. The real problems lie at the commercial kennels and happen long before the puppies arrive in the stores. Poor breeding practices and lack of veterinary care are two of the biggest problems that are not easily fixed with more regulations. In fact, puppies arriving into Michigan from the industry’s new “showcase” kennels have many abnormalities listing on their health certificates, including generic issues as a result of poor breeding. (IF the CVI, aka “health certificate “, is even complete).

These pet stores are selling puppies w/ incomplete CVI paperwork (against state requirements), sick puppies and misleading breed labels.

Charlie Wilhelm
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 7:56am

Defending puppy mills? Is this 1952? Kind of like the "coal is good" crowd. These are anachronistic bills representing special interest groups, not the voters or the public good. This is a good example why so much change in our politics is needed.

Thomas E Graham
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 9:45am

Although I love my dog I have the common sense to realize that it is an animal, just like a chicken or a pig or a cow. I can buy farm animals at a farm supply store and I can buy pets at a pet supply store. Pet stores ought to inspect the places they purchase their stock from to ensure they are not buying defective products.
Instead of banning the practice, why not simply regulate them so they can only purchase from accredited puppy mills? Puppy mills can grow puppies in a humane way just like chicken farmers can grow chickens in a humane way.
I would contend that we should regulate the pet stores, requiring them to purchase back any socially defective animal and replace it with a good one. That would use the free market to fix the problem. Stores would not want to bare the cost of destroying the returned animals and they would either stop selling them altogether or figure out a way to increase the quality of the products they are selling, i.e. inspecting the puppy mills before purchasing.

Meredith Blanchard
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:42pm

"Purchase back any socially defective animal and replace it with a good one" ??? We are not talking about toaster ovens, they are living, feeling animals that are often considered part of the family as soon as they are brought home.

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 4:00pm

You must be new here. This is the most compassionate Thomas has sounded in months

Dr Nick
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:06am

Have these people in Lansing gone completely insane or are they just paid whores to lobby interests?

Anne M Hier
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 3:12pm

Get dogs only from shelters? Michigan law requires shelters and rescues are required to be licensed but there are over 300 unlicensed shelters and rescues in the state of Michigan. The consumer has no protection or guarantee of health or temperament when acquiring random source dogs. Additionally, too many shelters are importing thousands of dogs into the United States - including into Michigan -with fake health certificates and bringing in diseases that threaten the health of not only dogs, but people. We have a very large unregulated shelter industry in this state that continually carves out exceptions for itself to not obey the law.

Fri, 12/07/2018 - 11:44am

Personally I believe (and from experience) buying a dog from any pet store is a stupid decision on many levels. (And have gotten over the pedigree thing long ago! shelters and adoptions work just fine!) And folks, many "breeders" are nothing more than smaller scale puppy mills. So don't give yourself any credit there either! But this question really isn't about puppies. It's about the boundary lines of authority. These were always understood implicitly but now with sanctuary cities, plastic bag bans, divestiture moves, local minimum wages etc, implicit no longer means anything and cities think they can regulate and legislate way out of their traditional spheres. Where should these line end? A lot of folks here believe in none.

The Duck is Lame
Mon, 12/10/2018 - 3:32pm

GOP hates local control.