Politics
5:30 pm
Sun April 15, 2012

“Puppy protection act” may have prevented Allegan cruelty case

Last week Allegan County officials took more than 350 small breed dogs (more litters of puppies have arrived since) from a two bedroom home in Cheshire Township, about 30 miles northwest of Kalamazoo.

More than 300 of the animals have ended up in shelters across the state to help the over burdened shelter in Allegan County, and to get the dogs through the adoption process quicker. 

The owners were breeding the small dogs for sale. This report came from the Associated Press.

The sheriff's department said Cheri and George Burke, both 64, were arraigned Wednesday (April 11th, 2012) at the Allegan County jail on felony animal cruelty charges following an investigation by animal control officers and sheriff's officials. According to authorities, some of the dogs were covered in feces and fleas, and some had eye problems.

Some hope the cruelty case will help get the public to push lawmakers behind a bi-partisan effort to license large scale commercial breeders. It’s called the “puppy protection act”.

“Something like this bill would give us the authority to make sure it doesn’t get to this point,” said Dr. Steve Halstead, the Michigan Department of Agriculture's State Veterinarian. 

The proposed state bill would’ve given his office authority to inspect the dog’s conditions before getting a state license. “It’s working with the proprietors to make sure that the animals never suffer,” Halstead said.

The proposed bill would only apply to breeders with more than 15 reproductive female dogs. “This is a small group,” Halstead said. When pressed for a number he says they estimate it is less than 20 the law would apply for. But there’s no way to know.

The “puppy protection act” would:

  • Limit the number of reproductive female dogs to 50
  • Limit each female dog to one litter of puppies per year
  • Outline requirements for “adequate” health, food, water, exercise, housing, and veterinary care

Halstead says several other states have passed similar laws recently; closing down so-called “puppy mills” or forcing owners to improve conditions.

“350 is a stretch in anybody’s hands. I mean that takes a workforce to keep up with,” Halstead said. “If you look just at the animal shelters across the state, very few of them can house 350 animals in their physical facility let alone with the funding and the staffing.”

“These are not agricultural animals being raised for food. These are family pets,” said State Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), who co-introduced the bill. He sees it as a consumer protection law. “If they’re psychologically damaged and mistreated, they’re not going to make very good pets,” Jones said.

The bill was introduced in January 2012. Jones says since then, a couple of lobbyists have approached him about it. “They don’t want any restrictions,” Jones said.

Halstead and Jones agree most breeders are responsible.

“The problem is when you get into these really large operations they become very very sterile, cruel type of places,” said Democratic State Senator Steve Bieda (D-Warren), who co-introduced the bill with Jones. “I think most pet lovers and frankly pet breeders don’t like to see these actors come into the process.”

Bieda says he hopes the incident in Allegan County will inspire people to urge their own lawmakers to support the bill.

“It’ll take a lot of pressure from the public calling their representatives and their senators and asking for a change in the law,” Jones said.

Still, Dr. Halstead says his department has had to stop inspecting pet shops as required because of budget constraints. But he believes having the puppy protection act on the books would give authorities a tool to prevent similar incidents in the future.

A facebook group, How to help Allegan Animal Control puppymill raid victims, has loads of photos and ways people can help or adopt the dogs.

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