News Story

State Law Requires the Killing of Unlicensed Dogs

Simply not paying as little as $10 for a dog license could result in your local county government being forced to kill your dog, according to an antiquated Michigan state law that dates back to 1919.

The Dog Law of 1919 (Act 339) allows municipalities to do a survey to uncover who may have unlicensed dogs. Some counties in Michigan still do that. However, the law further states that any unlicensed dog is to be declared a “public nuisance” and directs a county treasurer that has compiled a list of unlicensed dogs to hand it over to the county’s prosecuting attorney. The law then states: “[T]he sheriff shall locate and kill, or cause to be killed, all such unlicensed dogs. Failure, refusal, or neglect on the part of a sheriff to carry out the provisions of this section constitutes nonfeasance in office.”

It’s not believed that any municipality has followed through on the section of the law requiring dogs to be killed. The Michigan Attorney General’s office reviewed the law at the request of Michigan Capitol Confidential and confirmed that the language was in the bill. But spokeswoman Joy Yearout said the Attorney General would not comment.

Larry Obrecht, the Oakland County animal control division manager, said he has been trying to change that part of the law that mandates using a county’s list of unlicensed dogs to kill them.

“That should just be deleted,” said Obrecht, referring to the section that mandates the sheriff’s office locate and kill unlicensed dogs. “It shouldn’t be part of the law. That’s not what we do. … The danger is if somebody got a hold of that and sued the treasurer for not reporting it to the prosecutor.”

Obrecht said the state-sanctioned killing of unlicensed dogs was meant for a different era.

“But remember when it was written and the purpose of it,” he said. “In 1919, pack dogs were running around and eating your chickens, killing your hogs and taking down your cows. That would be devastating.”

Jack McHugh, legislative analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said there are too many laws on the books.

“Not that they should pass any more regulations, but if they do, this law is more evidence that for every new one adopted, two or three should be repealed,” McHugh said. “The statute books are over-cluttered with dinosaur regulations from past eras.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.