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.
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?”