News Story

Despite Repeal Attempts, Michigan State Law Mandates Unlicensed Dogs Be Killed

Antiquated statute still on the books

Pet-loving citizens take note: Don't be late when renewing a dog license or forget to register that new puppy with the county. Not licensing your dog in Michigan means the local sheriff is required by law to have it killed.

As Michigan Capitol Confidential first reported two years ago, the antiquated “Dog Law” (Act 339 of 1919) has not been followed in decades, but still is on the books. A recent bill is attempting to repeal it.

The statute states that if a county treasurer locates an unlicensed dog, the animal is to be considered a “public nuisance” and killed.

The law reads: “The sheriff 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.”

This is ignored by law enforcement, district attorneys and local officials.

For example, the treasurer of Livingston County discusses reasons on its website for licensing canines and even threatens a fine, but the fact that the animal is required by law to be put down if not registered is not mentioned.

Beth Wellman is the director of the Humane Society of Midland County. The organization qualifies as a no-kill shelter and takes in all dogs that it can.

“The law is out-of-date and doesn’t reflect the times,” she said. “Obviously, we would disagree with an unlicensed dog being taken and killed.”

There have been two recent attempts to repeal the law. House Bill 4894 of 2011 and House Bill 4168 of 2013 were introduced by Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Protage. Neither has been taken up in committee.

"I had read about the law after hearing about it, I believe, from our local animal control officer," said Rep. O'Brien. "I talked to sheriffs around the state and they told me that nobody follows it and it is not needed."

"The bill is just removing a law that has no purpose," she said.

The latest bill was introduced on Feb. 5 and sits in the House Local Government Committee.

The state should spend less time expanding government and more time repealing laws that make no sense, said Jack McHugh, editor of, which tracks and explains every bill introduced in the Legislature since 2001.

"Since 2001, Michigan legislators have proposed more than 25,000 new laws, and actually enacted more than 5,000," he said. "This is what happens when politicians promote the idea that government can solve every problem, and when voters don’t understand that the unintended negative consequences of government ‘solutions’ are usually worse than the problems they sought to address."

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.