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About Michigan's 1919 Dog Law (which is NOT a whole lot different than other states)

Since I'm most familiar with Michigan law, I'll go into more detail about it - but most of these things can apply to almost every U.S. state and Canadian province. A couple of states are a bit more progressive...Maine, Oregon, California to name a few, but generally dogs are "chattel" - a type of property akin to table lamps or TV sets. You may want to find out how your state sees companion animals. There is no provision for their feeling pain, suffering, or any value beyond a vet bill or purchase price. They are considered disposable and easily replaced by another pet. There is no provision for a dog trained for a special service (such as a police dog or service dog). There is no exception for dogs that provide income or do work for their owners (such as breeding dogs or herding dogs or therapy dogs). In the eyes of the law, Fluffy is easily replaced by Fluffy II for pennies. There is no consideration for your love or emotional attachment to the dog, a child's feelings for the dog, how much work or money went into to training the dog, or that it's a valued member of your family. It's just a table lamp in the eyes of the law. That was bad enough....

In fact, Veterinarians can harass the victim through the court system so badly that it becomes incredibly expensive and emotionally draining to try and obtain a fair settlement. This should not be, but the law allows it. It protects bad veterinarians and animal abusers, and hurts pet owners.  To top it off, they will work tirelessly to force you to sign draconian gag orders that infringe on your 1st Amendment rights.  Many will sign these just to get the bills paid.  You shouldn't have to.  But I understand because it happened to me.  The huge bill for Mulan sat on a credit card for 5 years - and all I could make were the minimum payments (meanwhile Dr. S was able to throw $30,000 at fighting me and the complaint I filed with the Michigan State Licensing commission.).  He'd rather lawyers and crooked politicians got his money than the dog he put through torture and almost killed.  It still amazes me that show people still USE this guy as a vet!!!  They are obviously in denial that he could ever make a mistake.

This whole fiasco with Mulan brought to my attention the need for better dog laws.  Michigan law essentially is useless and sometimes damaging to the very people and pets it proposes to protect.  And it's not just Michigan law - virtually every other state in the union created laws based on a federal law written in 1919 - back when dogs roamed free, lived in the barn, and got fed whatever the farmer had left once the family ate.  They weren't necessarily in the house, they were not part of the family (if they were, it was only on the fringe because the family happened to be quite unusual) and could expect little vet care, love or attention beyond an occasional kick or pat on the head.  Dogs were farm animals - like sheep, goats, cows.  And so they made a law that covered all those critters living on the farm...dogs included.  Years later they amended the ancient laws and added provisions for basic care, abuse and sometimes number limits...but generally the law is the same as it was almost 100 years ago.  Not much has changed.  Most of the current dog laws are available online at the Michigan State University website.

The laws currently on the books negatively affect dogs, cats, their owners and those caring for them.

  • Most kill shelters can destroy your lost dog after 48 hours if it doesn't have tags, microchip or tattoo (because it's a "stray"), identified dogs get a week.
  • There are rumblings of making certain breeds "dangerous dogs" - sometimes Malamutes are included in those rumblings.  It has happened in other states, it will happen here if we don't stop it.
  • If your dog is harmed by a veterinarian or any animal professional and the problem is so severe or expensive you decide to euthanize the dog - they are then "immune" from having to pay any damages whatsoever.
  • If your dog is harmed by a veterinarian or any animal professional they are only liable for the vet bills - nothing more. If a $35 prescription kills your dog, they only have to pay $35 - even if there is proof of negligence.
  • This applies equally to service dogs, dogs for the blind, purebred show dogs, and other dogs that cost thousands of dollars to train  that the owner may depend on for his/her livelihood.

The Michigan 1919 Dog Law was dreamed up and agreed upon by politicians, bureaucrats and a handful of organizations with established relationships - such as veterinarians, farmers and police organizations.  All work is done "behind the scenes" through lobbyists and politician's staff members.  It's still that way.  The animal rights people have had their own lobbyists for a long time.  Newer groups are obtaining lobbyists to fight back.  It's all about control.  This lack of transparency, public debate and evidence based decision making can only lead to more bad outcomes if allowed to continue.  Average pet owners need to get involved!!!

There is Hope

A new group called has organized as well as an even newer group called Justice for Tucker & Huey.  The first group is made up of dog clubs and fanciers and is funded through various dog organizations in the state.  They do not take private donations directly.  Their agenda is an improvement, but still doesn't address certain concerns of the average pet owner - that our pets are merely chattel.  We’re experiencing a revolution brought on by new technology and though this technology we can band together even if we are not part of an organized "dog club". The Internet is enabling conversations between people that were simply not possible years ago.  While in times past it was necessary to have someone make these decisions for us, this is no longer the case.  These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. Facebook Twitter Blogs Email Google - will all change how future law is discussed and made. While their agenda does help average owners somewhat - their main focus is on breeders, clubs, and sportsmen and their needs, and hey are addressing breed bans and puppy mills which is sorely needed. 

The group Justice for Tucker & Huey was started when two family dogs were led off the owners property, locked in a garage and shot in cold blood.  This is a grass roots movement of pet owners and others who just now realized the laws are not fair.  The shooter was legally allowed to do this because the dogs followed him onto his property!

Another situation: A dog named Logan had acid thrown in his face that eventually killed him.  These are motivators and can bring people together to make a difference.  Matt, Logan's owner is the impetus behind Logan's Law and has spearheaded 3 bills that will be introduced into the Michigan Senate shortly:

    download 2013-SIB-0378.pdf

    download 2013-SIB-0386.pdf

    download 2013-SIB-0377.pdf   - however, in the last section...not that veterinarians have exempted themselves from this bill.  In essence while YOU may not kill, maime, or torture a dog, they CAN?....not fair is it?

    New Wave of Animal Welfare

    Animal Welfare supporters are no longer content to simply donate, read a newsletter and leave it to the big organizations to take care of things.  They are also finding that their donations to PETA and HSUS are not going to actually help pets.  So they're getting involved. This is good!  In communities around the world, regular pet owners are making policy.  We are telling the buercrats how we want it done.

    There needs to be change to companion animal welfare laws. There will be opposition from some with vested interests (such as insurance carriers and veterinarians and of course the animal rights groups), but fortunately the game has changed and a bottom up approach is now possible.  Look on Facebook and you'll see groups forming to improve the welfare and circumstances of pets and abandoned animals.   Seek out opportunities to use your skills, your ideas, your experience and your passion to further these efforts and demand to be involved!

    So what exactly does the 1919 dog law actually say?

    Beyond that our dogs are property akin to a table lamp. Well..not much. It requires owners to do 4 things to own a dog:

    • License it by 6 months of age.
    • Dog must wear a collar with tags.
    • Females must be on leash when in heat.
    • They can't run loose unless hunting (I had this one clarified for me by an attorney...hunting means you, a human, taught it to does not include bunnies stalked by your dog).

    That is ALL. An owner can still can chain it to a post and ignore it it's entire life as long as it's fed and has water. It doesn't require clean or warm bedding, or toys, or love. If the veterinarian kills the dog, the law says nothing. Not much is it? 

    The 1919 dog law also defines "ownership". You own the dog if:

    • You have a right to it (paid for it, were given it, found it)
    • You harbor/care for it
    • You permit it to remain on your property

    In other words, if your neighbor lets his dog poop in your yard and hang out on your property, you may own his dog (or at least partially own it). If you feed a stray cat, it's yours. If you purchased, were given, or found it - it's yours. Several clauses have been added regarding care of dogs such as defining cruelty, and such - but I'm assuming you are a good home and know what cruelty is and how to identify it, or you wouldn't be HERE.

    What can be done when you are the victim of malpractice?

    Not much. In a lot of cases, unless you have unlimited deep pockets, can afford a high-profile attorney, one with tons of experience and willing to lose his sterling reputation on your case, you will get no representation. Goood luck finding an attorney like that!  They know how it works, so unless they are just plain nice or have had something similar happen to them - they'll blow off your case!  I contacted over 50 attorneys in the course of my lawsuit and most wanted nothing to do with it.  They were all about money and didn't feel because of this law, there was enough of a case to bother. Most attorneys in Michigan won't touch dog cases with a ten-foot pole because they aren't profitable.  In states that have updated their laws, this has gotten better.   But you know it's bad when only ONE Malamute owner has EVER won a settlement for being victimized. The reason animal lawsuits aren't profitable is because of the insurance companies have experience working the system - they will drag out everything - on purpose - to make it more expensive for you the dog owner. It becomes so expensive that unless you are terribly motivated, you will give up. Your attorney will give up knowing that his bill will likely be much larger than you'll ever get from the insurance company or vet. The vets and insurance companies count on this! They have a whole master plan whose sole purpose is to drag proceedings out as long as possible - delays, repeat requests for information, lies, stalling tactics, more delays, more stalling, special mediation hearings, more stalling...anything to crank up your bill (their attorneys are on staff, so get paid regardless - no sweat off their backs!) and make it difficult for you to continue. 

    Number of Dogs Allowed

    There have been rulings that a municipality can't enforce the number of dogs you "own".  One of the arguments used in other states (this hasn't been done in Michigan) is that any number is an arbitrary number.  Some owners have successfully defended their right to own multiple pets with this argument.  If someone from animal control comes to your house, unless they have a warrant, you do not have to let them in.

    Also, Michigan states there are only 4 kinds of pet ownership:

    • Owners
    • Kennels
    • Shelters
    • Petshops

    There is no consideration for hobby breeders (like we are), commercial breeders (puppy mills), or other classifications.  How about the policeman with a police dog?  Handicapped individual with a service dog? Farmer with a herding dog?  These dogs have jobs, and are important to their owner's mobility or livelihood, yet no classification is set aside for the special work these dogs do or the valuable role they play in our society.

    So how do you change this strange and ancient law to fit modern society?

    You influence law in two ways...though lawsuits that go to the Supreme Court level...or through Legislation.  Both are very expensive, long processes.  That is why we need to band together and influence the law as PET OWNERS.  If we don't, the animal rights nuts, the dog organizations, or the kennel clubs will tell us how to live with our pets. Some ideas on how to influence laws and fight a case are here.

    I put this information online because I thought Dr. S would have done the right thing right away - and saved himself thousands in legal fees including removal of the complaint that should have cost him his license, but he didn't. I waited 15 months before putting up this page about what went wrong and why the Dog Law of 1919 is bad. I am still waiting after almost 5 YEARS for resolution. I really didn't want to embarrass him and would have thought in that time he would have taken care of the damage done. I would have thought it would have been resolved quickly - after all, the evidence is obvious. At one time he was my favorite and most trusted vet...but all that changed when he didn't man-up to some serious mistakes - a dead top show dog, a maimed show dog and lots of bad advice and expensive "reproductive expert" bills that didn't bring about the desired results.

    He tried to wiggle out of reimbursing us for the severe damage his negligence caused to our breeding program - not even considering the pain and suffering Mulan went through, the anxiety and emotional distress I felt over almost losing my special girl, or the financial damage done to our family. Just the court costs alone were over $2,000 - not including my attorney fees! She likely nursed her puppies in a huge amount of pain and came close to suffering seizures, heart failure and more. The State of Michigan investigated restricting or revoking his license - and he WAS willing to pay thousands to fix that.



    Want to know more?

    About the 1919 Dog Law

    Mulan's Horror Story

    Other Pet Stories

    Dog Law - Legal terms, case studies

    Resources for Change

    List of malpractice/abuse cases

    Puppy Lemon Laws