Opinion: Veto bills that help puppy mills

Molly Tamulevich
Dogs in the puppy room at Detroit Animal Care and Control. New Detroit Animal Care and Control director Charles Brown in Detroit, Michigan on September 28, 2018. (Image by Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

While most Americans are thinking about what holiday gifts to buy for their beloved pets, hundreds of thousands of breeding dogs are languishing in cramped, dirty, wire cages in puppy mills across the nation, including the mothers of many puppies sold in pet stores.

Shockingly, a narrow majority of Michigan lawmakers passed legislation last week that would force communities in the state to allow pet stores to sell puppies from these cruel breeding facilities. Gov. Rick Snyder should veto this harmful measure.

This misguided and backwards policy would place Michigan on the wrong side of the puppy mill issue. Other states, including Maryland and California, along with over 280 localities across the nation (including three in Michigan), have banned pet stores from selling mill puppies altogether.

It should not surprise Michigan residents then, that a coalition of more than 20 Michigan organizations and the Humane Society of the United States have joined forces to oppose bad legislation that would strip Michigan communities of their right to regulate pet stores.

House bills 5916 and 5917 have surfaced only because of puppy mill lobbyists going state-to-state begging lawmakers to protect their industry.

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Hank Vaupel (Handy Township), claims the bills will prevent pet stores from selling dogs from unregulated, unscrupulous breeders or puppy mills. Yet, the bills’ provisions prove otherwise.

HB 5916 would allow pet stores to source from non-large-scale dog breeding kennels, defined as facilities with fewer than 15 breeding female dogs. There are no further requirements on this category, meaning a pet store could source from unlicensed, unregulated breeders with horrible animal welfare records so long as they claim to have fewer than 15 female breeding dogs. Out-of-state puppy mills, over which the state has no jurisdiction, will surely claim they fit this category.

The bill would also allow stores to source from large-scale dog breeding kennels, defined as facilities with 15 or more breeding female dogs, as long as the facility is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has not been cited for certain violations. Yet, USDA standards are nothing more than federally approved animal cruelty. Dogs can be kept in stacked, wire cages only six inches larger than their bodies for their entire lives. There is no limit to how many dogs a facility can keep, nor how often a mother dog can be bred.

Local governments that wish to reject this cruelty should be able to do so. They should retain the right to prevent residents from being duped into supporting a cruel industry, and they should do their best to protect consumers from unknowingly buying a sick or behaviorally challenged puppy. Instead, they should be able to regulate pet stores as they see fit.

Rather than working to protect the small segment of the pet store industry that still sells puppies, Michigan should promote those people who are doing the right thing in the pet industry, including shelters, rescues and responsible breeders that sell directly to the public because they have nothing to hide.

HB 5916 and 5917 are bad for animals and consumers and should be vetoed.

Molly Tamulevich is the Michigan state director for the Humane Society of the United States.