News Story

Got A License For That Dog? Under This Bill Wouldn't Need One

A state dog license law appears widely ignored

Michigan dog owners would no longer be required to get their pets licensed if a recently introduced bill in the state House were to become law. The measure would nix state and local laws requiring all dogs to be licensed. Many counties issue the licenses and collect fees for doing so.

The Dog Law of 1919 was originally intended to protect livestock from stray dogs, and it still regulates dog ownership in Michigan. Amended many times since its original adoption, one part of the law requires that all dogs be licensed, and licenses can only be obtained if a dog has up-to-date rabies vaccinations.

House Bill 6301 would eliminate dog licensing requirements. It was introduced by Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, on Sept. 5 and referred to the House Local Government Committee.

"If you want to get a dog in the state of Michigan you have to ask permission from the government. I don't really like that as a public policy,” LaFave told Michigan Capitol Confidential. “I don’t think it’s the government’s business if I have a bird or a cat or a dog in my house.”

LaFave added that while he’d like to repeal the law outright, he doesn’t believe he has the support of a majority of his House colleagues. LaFave hopes to instead nix the licensing requirement for service dogs, which he believes his colleagues could get behind.

County offices that administer and collect fees for dog licenses are also unlikely to support the bill as introduced. Jackson County charges between $5 to $60 to license a dog, depending on a number of variables, such as its age.

"Licensing your dog is one of the most important things you can do as a pet owner,” the Jackson County website states. “A license tells everyone that your pet is not a homeless stray. Licensing your dog helps control and prevent the spread of rabies.”

The Kalamazoo Humane Society states that licensing dogs helps the process of getting lost dogs returned home to the proper owners.

"Countless dogs are returned to the owner without ever having to go to the shelter because they were wearing a Dog License,” the Kalamazoo Humane Society website states. “If that isn't enough to inspire you to obey the law, consider the fees and fines and possible court/jail time if you don't get your license.”

Counties charge various amounts for licenses, and they typically use the funds for animal control. Macomb County charges $7.50 for each spayed or neutered dog and $15 for intact dogs. St. Clair County used to charge $12 for spayed or neutered dogs and $22 for intact dogs. The county’s fees went up to $40 per dog after February. Kent County charges $17 to license spayed or neutered dogs and $26 for other dogs. The county says licensing funds its animal control unit.

LaFave estimated that in Dickinson County, where he lives, only 400 of the 10,000 dogs in the county — four percent — are registered.

In Washtenaw County, 6,025 dogs are currently licensed, the county treasurer’s office told Michigan Capitol Confidential. According to U.S. Census Bureau numbers for Washtenaw County and a formula provided by the county’s animal control unit, the county has an estimated 80,984 dogs in total, which means only 7.4 percent of dogs in Washtenaw County are registered.

According to an article in The Oakland Press from July 2018, “There are about 438,000 dogs in Oakland County but only 65,000, or 15 percent, are licensed.”

The Michigan Humane Society did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to LaFave’s bill and its potential impact on service dog owners, several other bills have been introduced by other legislators in the current session to impose an extensive regulatory regime and licensure on service dog trainers.

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.