Lawmakers, animal advocates seek legislation to stop puppy mills

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 21, 2012

 From left, Rep. Vicki Barnett, Michigan Humane Society President and CEO Cal Morgan, Sen. Steve Bieda and Sen. Rick Jones gathered at the Capitol in Lansing Feb. 16 to announce the Puppy Protection Act, which would crack down on large-scale breeders, or puppy mills, in Michigan.

From left, Rep. Vicki Barnett, Michigan Humane Society President and CEO Cal Morgan, Sen. Steve Bieda and Sen. Rick Jones gathered at the Capitol in Lansing Feb. 16 to announce the Puppy Protection Act, which would crack down on large-scale breeders, or puppy mills, in Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Humane Society

As pet lovers snuggle up with their furry friends, many may not think about where their animals came from before they found them listed online or at a pet store. But the Michigan Humane Society estimates that 99 percent of pet store puppies are bred by large-scale breeders, or puppy mills, some of which are known for their cruel and inhumane treatment of animals to maximize profit.

That’s why animal welfare advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have joined together to introduce the Puppy Protection Act to the Michigan House and Senate. The bills would crack down on large-scale commercial breeding in the state and ensure that the dogs in those facilities are adequately cared for. Michigan Humane Society spokesman Kevin Hatman said the PPA, which was introduced at a press conference at the Capitol in Lansing Feb. 16, would create strict guidelines on issues concerning medical care, nutrition, exercise, sanitation and other practices that will help animal control officers and police officers monitor breeders and prosecute them when necessary. The regulations would also put limitations on the number of dogs that can be housed in breeding facilities and would effectively exempt smaller or “hobby” breeders.

“This is for the large-scale breeders that value profit over animal welfare. To compare them to reputable breeders that provide quality care for animals, (puppy mills) breed animals to the point of death in inhumane conditions. They don’t provide veterinary care. They give them inadequate food and water, keep them in stacked cages, and they suffer a great deal because of it.”

Hatman said the legislation, which has been in the works for more than two years, is being sponsored by Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills; Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren; and Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. They, along with the MHS, the Michigan Association of Animal Control Officers, the Michigan Veterinary Association and Michigan-based advocacy group Puppy Mill Awareness, are pushing members of the Michigan House and Senate to pass the legislation, so it can be enforced as soon as possible. According to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, as of 2011 only 35 states had passed similar laws. Hatman said that since then, many states have either enacted or proposed legislation to regulate large-scale breeders, and he expects Michigan lawmakers will back the measure.

“So far, it’s just been introduced, but we’ve had a lot of people contact their senators and representatives to support it. We’re very hopeful it will move before the end of the year.”

One person who hopes the PPA is passed is Terry MacKillop, director of Roscommon County Animal Control and president of the Michigan Association of Animal Control Officers. He’s seen on more than one occasion how dogs can suffer from conditions at puppy mills.

“It’s very sad. If you have a heart at all, it just rips you apart,” said MacKillop. He said that over the years while investigating puppy mills, he’s seen dogs that were emaciated and fed just enough to keep them alive, dogs that had lost their fur and some that were bow-legged because they were kept in cages, where they weren’t able to fully stand. MacKillop said it’s a common misconception that existing laws for kennel licensing apply to breeders, but the laws don’t target breeders, and if none for breeders are enacted, Michigan could become a haven for puppy mills.

“Right now, a lot of these complaints just fall on deaf ears. With this law, local sheriffs and police officers can go out and inspect the properties, exercise, vet care. There’s no second guessing. It spells it out.”

While lawmakers in Lansing hash out the details of the PPA, people can contact their legislators to share their support for the bills. The MHS website has tips on how advocates can reach out to the Michigan House and Senate by phone or email.

“What I tell people is that all puppy mills do is breed misery,” said MacKillop. “It’s a sad, sad situation. People ask what’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and those are probably the toughest.”

For information on how to contact lawmakers regarding the Puppy Protection Act, visit www.MichiganHumane.org.