Dog Laws

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 unless 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. Better hope your dog lives...
  • If your dog is harmed by a veterinarian or any animal professional and LIVES...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 or 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.  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 Malamute owners need to get involved!!!

There is Hope

A new group called has organized.  Again this 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 Malamute owner - that our Malamutes 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. 

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 dogs.  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 dogs 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!

8 Things You Can Do To Protect Against Poor or Restrictive Dog Legislation

1. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for all publicity regarding dog incidents - good or bad. Keep a file.
2. Contact others so we're alerted to potential problems and/or dog legislation.
3. Check the legal notices in your newspaper for hearings about proposals related to dogs and Malamutes. (A favorite is to limit the number of dogs per household under zoning.)
4. Rally as many dog clubs and responsible dog owners in your area as possible to go to all public hearings.
5. Assemble information for an orderly and calm presentation to your legislators.
6. Present a viable alternative to any proposal for anti-dog or anti-dog legislation.
7. Support legitimate groups financially so the necessary funds will be available to fight bad legislation. 
8. Join us to promote sound, fair animal legislation.

Michigan 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 that - 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.  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.  There is no provision for a dog trained for a special service (such as a police dog or service dog).  There is no provision for dogs that provide income or do work for their owners (such as breeding dogs or herding dogs).  In the eyes of the law, Fluffy is easily replaced by Fluffy II.  There is no consideration for your love or emotional attachment to 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....

Then along came the Animal Rights crazies... .  Their agenda is to keep everyone from owning dogs altogether. They have the money (from all your donations thinking you are actually helping animals when you were not) to influence legislation.  Their agenda is to make it so miserable to own dogs - it won't be worth the trouble.  Eventually because it becomes so difficult to own dogs (much less responsibly breed them), nobody does.  Dogs become an expensive commodity no one can afford.  Because over time no one will have them, the ability to care for them properly becomes lost.  They become status symbols.  They are not loved for who they are, but what they symbolize - money and status.  They no longer are parts of our family, but become either strays because no one can afford  them or are locked away in kennels to be admired by the rich but not played with.  A sad lonely life.

So there needs to be a category somewhere between a table lamp and status symbol.  Some states have proposed (and adopted) the terminology "sentient property" - which means it is still "property" but a special class with emotions and the ability to feel pain.  To take this even further, this "property" should have "intrinsic value". Attorneys learn in law school about the case of the heirloom brooch.  Yes, it's just a brooch, but it's unique and irreplaceable - possibly priceless so therefore has more value than mass-produced brooch on a rack at Walmart. It is not easily replaced. Our dogs are not easily replaced either, and they have feelings and emotions. This is a start.  But there are other areas to address...

  • Owner responsibility
  • Public Education
  • Dogs in the service of humans
  • Breeding and Veterinary care
  • Rescue and Adoption
  • Legislation

So...if we don't want the Animal Rights nuts making our laws...who will?  The easy answer is dog clubs. Next to the animal rights people, people that show their dogs, do obedience with their dogs, hunt their dogs, or do other organized activities with their dogs and will be next in line to try and influence the legislature.  That's all fine and good, but how about the AVERAGE Malamute OWNER?  You.  Me. The guy with two labs next door or the lady with a menagerie of rescue cats.  You have to understand - people are going to influence the legislature to make laws that benefit THEM.  One of the reasons the law states that hunting dogs can run around loose without collars on, but your dog can't is because the hunting dog people have made it a point to get involved and tweak the laws to their advantage.  Their needs are not the same as the guy with two labs or people with multiple dogs. We MUST get involved or laws will be made that will only benefit clubs and organizations, AR groups and legislatures - not the average dog owner. 

Right now there are laws being proposed all over the country that say if a dog attacks another dog it's vicious!  Yet our breed is "dog aggressive" to some extent (we are working on it, but it's still a trait we have to live with!).  With legislation like this, our Mals will be branded "dangerous" if they so much as growl at another dog.  Do we need this? NO.  Get involved!  A hunting dog guy doesn't CARE.  He's more worried about something else.  It's up to US to make our world safe and better for our Malamutes.doglaw

So what exactly does the 1919 dog law 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 mal).

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. 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 what is cruelty, and such - but I'm assuming you are a good home and know what cruelty is and how to identify it, so I won't go into that here. 

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 dogs 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 Dog 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 Malamute OWNERS.  If we don't, the animal rights nuts, the dog organizations, or the kennel clubs will tell us how to live with our Malamutes. 

Who is fighting this battle in Michigan?

  • Michigan Association for Purebred Dogs
  • Michigan Hunting Dog Federation
  • United Kennel Club
  • Al Stinson, DVM (MSU Anatomy teacher)
  • Protect MI dogs
  • Animal Rights groups (with their millions and paid lobbyists)
  • Are you?

Why be concerned?  In 2009 Humane Society of the United States appointed it's first state representative to Michigan and they can spend $100 million a year on their agenda.   PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) probably spends a lot too.  ProtectMIdogs has acquired a lobbyist to try and combat this, but it's not enough and their focus is mainly on sporting dogs - not pet dogs. 

What can we do as Pet owners?

  • promote animal welfare
  • support responsible dog ownership
  • practice responsible and humane dog breeding and training
  • support freedom of choice in veterinary medicine
  • support legislation that protects the value and worth of our Malamutes (sentient property or intrinsic value)
  • support dog friendly public policy
  • support dog friendly public officials
  • support changes in the 1919 dog law that protect our dogs
  • become knowledgeable and educated about the legislative process

What can be done when you are the victim?

Laws regarding Veterinary Malpractice in Michigan

MSU has put the Michigan Dog Law of 1919 online here:

I was originally told that the only way to get damages from a bad vet is to sue in court with an expert witness...but that's not exactly true...

The Alternative of Res Ipsa Loquitur

"Sometimes the action of the veterinarian is so obviously wrong that an expert is not needed to show malpractice. A court may allow a jury to make a judgment based upon the "common knowledge" of the community, or may apply the concept of "res ipsa loquitur." For example, in one case the veterinarian operated on the wrong horse. (FN 49) In another a veterinarian left a needle in the neck of a horse and left the horse to do another task. The court stated, "moreover, where the very nature of the acts complained of bespeaks improper treatment and malpractice" a prima facie case may be established without the necessity of offering expert evidence to that effect. (FN 50) In both cases, the expert testimony of another veterinarian was not necessary for the jury to find a violation of the law. But, when the issue before the court concerned the application of anesthetics to an animal, the court did not allow res ipsa loquitur to apply, as the understanding of such issues are not in the common knowledge of a layman. (FN 51) While normally a common law concept, it can be authorized by statute. (FN 52) "

  • Administrative Action for Malpractice. A person may file an action against a veterinarian with the state administrative licensing board that oversees veterinarians.  You should ALWAYS do this when your dog has been harmed, as it protects his future patients.
  • Negligence. If the actions in question are not within the realm of malpractice, then there may be legal liability based on common negligence. For example, if a veterinarian was overseeing the loading of a horse into a trailer and did not properly secure the horse, the standard of care is that of negligence.
  • Gross negligence. This is the more egregious form of a claim of negligence. If an animal came in for a treatment for fleas, and the veterinarian removed a leg, that would be gross negligence. A claim of gross negligence may support different kinds of damage awards, such as punitive damages or emotional distress for the owner.
  • Intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (on the owner). This may arise when the actions (against an animal) are intentional and likely to produce a strong reaction in the owner. This is an action in torts which is explained further in the Dog Damages discussion.
  • Duties of bailee. When a veterinarian acts as a bailee of an animal (for example when he or she boards Malamutes), then legal liability may arise either out of negligent care of the animal or failure to redeliver the animal to the owner. In one case, an insured veterinarian was bailee of an elephant, who died from poison while in his custody. While his negligence in allowing the animal near poison would normally give rise to liability, the bailor and bailee had signed a release which held the bailee "harmless from any liability in the event of the death of the elephant 'Sparkle.'"  A claim based upon a bailment does not require an expert witness and may have the effect of placing the burden of proof upon the veterinarian to explain what happened to the animal.
  • Violation of a contract obligation. This may be a useful approach if there is a written contract. However, oral agreements may also constitute a contract. The normal conversation with a veterinarian before rendering services would not constitute an oral contract. A contract claim can not be based on general statements of reassurance, "I'm sure Fluffy will be better after the operation." Rather, it must be a specific promise to do something or obtain a specific result. In a contracts action, the promise in the contract becomes the standard for conduct, not the general standard of veterinarian care appropriate to the community. There may be a difference in the statute of limitations for filing a contract action (longer) verse tort or malpractice action. 
  • Deceptive trade practices. However, professional services are often specifically excluded in the statutes that create the cause of action.  
  • Taking. This may occur when the actions of an agent of the State result in the death of an animal. Only one case has been found to support such a cause of action. It first requires that the veterinarian be an employee of the State. Secondly, because of some state policy the injury to the animal occurred. 

The statute of limitations according to the Michigan Veterinary Association: Medical malpractice limitations: general 2, negligence 3, property damage 3, breech of contract 6 from the time the malpractice was discovered.

Veterinary records: Ethically, the information within veterinary medical records is considered privileged and confidential. It must not be released except by court order or consent of the owner of the patient. Veterinarians are obligated to provide copies or summaries of medical records when requested by the client. Without the express permission of the practice owner, it is unethical for a veterinarian to remove, copy, or use the medical records or any part of any record.

Unlike many other states, Michigan law doesn't take into account that times have changed and our Malamute dogs and cats are more like our children, family members and close friends than farm animals. They sleep in our beds and are to many, "furry children". We call ourselves "Malamute parents" and sometimes dress them in clothes. Most vets promote this close attachment to our animals, after all, it gets us to pay larger sums for new procedures to keep them healthy and the vet wealthy. Over the last century we have gone from a rural society to an urban one. The role our dogs take in our lives has changed drastically - but the law in Michigan has not. Michigan law still regards our dogs and cats as "chattel" - (an article of movable personal property). Yes, like chickens or cattle. Your "fur child" is livestock under Michigan Law. If a chicken is killed, his worth is that of a roaster in the deli. Michigan law puts your Malamute in that same category. There is no acknowledgement that our Malamutes are more than roaster chickens!  Write your congressman and tell him this needs to change.

Please ask your friends to join with us to change the law. We also would like you to rate your veterinarian to let others know about him/her - places you can do this are and If you have a problem with a vet - FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE STATE LICENSING BOARD.  Somehow we need to make them accountable.   We do not want to change ownership status of a Malamute to guardian, which would create other problems, but would like to create a special class or category that acknowledges the human-animal bond our domestic dogs fulfill in our lives as other states have done. We want to get bad vets off the streets and those 'practicing' medicine on your beloved dog to stop practicing and start being accountable.

While most vets are caring professionals, the law allows the sloppy, lazy and bad vets to prosper and hurt our Malamutes. Laws protecting humans from malpractice do not apply to our furry children. They are livestock. Perhaps with tomorrows emergency, it will be Fluffy.  Will you be satisfied with replacement Fluffy II and someone telling you "it's only a dog"?

Dogs in Custody Battles

"An animal is treated like a television set or any other piece of property," says Raiford Palmer, a family law lawyer with Sullivan, Taylor and Gumina in Wheaton. There's no such thing as dog visitation," adds Matthew A. Kirsh, a family law attorney who lives in Lombard, IL and works at Colky and Kirsh in Chicago. In child custody cases, Illinois judges are mandated to rule for whatever is in "the best interest of the child." There is no custody issue with Malamutes, only ownership....the same is true in Michigan and almost every other state and province.

This too needs addressing as some persons are primary caretakers of the animals and there is a special bond because of this.  When divorce or custody battles loom, often the animal becomes caught in the tug of war and the primary caretaker or Malamute ends up losing. 

Municipal Dog Limit Enforcement

The following text outlines methods of inquiry and enforcement which may be used by local officials in attempts to enforce anti-dog ordinances in your community, and suggested techniques of response. These techniques are entirely legal and based upon the rights of citizens as stated by the U.S. Constitution.

Personal investigation:

If you are confronted with an official demanding to investigate your property, the following responses are recommended. If the person presents a badge, you should ask for:

His full name and phone number
His supervisor's full name and phone number
The agency he represents
His badge number
Why he is there to see you
Is there any complaint involved
Who made these complaints (he probably won't answer)
Whether he has a warrant for a search
Request a copy of that warrant (he probably won't have one)

  • Answer no questions, but ask that he send or deliver all questions in writing. You should write down the answers to all these questions as the conversation proceeds. A simple notebook will do the job.
  • If you feel that a search of your home will lead to a threatened confiscation of a dog or a criminal complaint, you should refuse entry to your home unless the sheriff or police are present with a search warrant. If he says that he can get one easily, then tell him to do so. Remain cool and polite. Call your attorney as soon as possible.
  • Remember: You do not have to let anyone into your house or on your property without a proper search warrant. Homeowners have prevailed in lawsuits precluding inspectors or law enforcement agents from such intrusions without a search warrant.
  • You should not be threatened with seizure without a court hearing or a court order. Obtain the names of all persons involved, including police officers. This may prevent seizure. Seizure of property without the due process of law is unconstitutional, and due process of law should include a court hearing in every action relating to such seizure. If the animal control officials or police seize a dog, they may not destroy the animal or harm it in any way until a judge has ruled that you are in violation and this can only occur after a full hearing.
  • Call your attorney at the time of threatened seizure and ask for help. Do not answer any questions from the police without legal advice. Do not offer any explanations regardless of what they may be (police and enforcement officials have a bad habit of misinterpreting such explanations!) Remember, everything can and probably will be used against you. Do not volunteer any dogs or other property.


Cooperation will not usually avoid prosecution. Also remember that seizure of one of your dogs without court action, under protest, amounts to prosecution without trial. Anything you say or do in regard to the attempted seizure or inquiries may be used against you in a criminal or quasi-criminal action. Everything you say or do will probably be used against you. Write down everything that is said or done as it happens. These notes can be valuable evidence to defend yourself at a later time. Try to avoid anger and avoid violence at all cost. Try to obtain as much information as you can: the informers, enforcing officials, officers, etc...Require enforcing officials and officers to put everything into writing. They may not do it, but you can ask.

Dog owners and ethical breeders are increasingly being targeted. Disgruntled neighbors may retaliate against dog owners and many other reasons drive complaints, and anti-dog enforcement action, which many times may be conducted illegally.


Keeping your dog safe at dog shows

  • Never leave your dog unsupervised in a crate at the dog show;
  • Never allow anyone to feed your dog a treat unless you know them well;
  • When taking the dog out of the crate, shut the door of the crate;
  • When you are returning the dog to the crate, check the water bowl, remove any bedding in the crate and check it;
  • If you see anything or anyone suspicious, take pictures, go to the superintendent and report it/them -- the worst thing that can happen is you are over protective;
  • Do NOT allow anyone you do NOT know to hold a dog while you show another one;
  • If you have your dogs in a vehicle, be sure it is completely locked and the windows are lowered only enough to provide air flow;
  • Do NOT give out personal information such as phone or address to people inquiring about pups, etc. Your email is sufficient, or take THEIR phone number;
  • DO bring shot and ownership records to the show, and keep them with you;
  • Think twice about advertising that you have dogs on your vehicle plates or anywhere else on your vehicle.

Dog Bites are covered in more depth here.

This page does not pretend to give legal advice, but it does present information to consider you may want to discuss an attorney.


If you would like more information about other aspects of  Dog Law:

Dog Bite Laws

Leash Laws

Cruelty Laws

Ordinance Laws