By MEGAN DURISIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – A new non-profit group is hounding the Capitol to protect the rights of dog owners.
Protect MI Dogs plans to promote legislation to benefit purebred dog owners, as well as people who are just interested in having family pets “to curl up by the fireplace,” said President Mark Jaeger of Mason.
“Down the road, there’s some things going on with animal rights organizations that have the goal of not allowing companion animals any longer,” Jaeger said.
Many people involved in the group have an interest in purebred dogs, including members of specialty breed clubs and professional trainers.
“If people want to have pets, someone has to breed them and we’d rather have it be someone in-state than having to import dogs from Missouri, Kansas or overseas,” said Jaeger, who also is the president of the Ingham County Kennel Club. “Some states are doing that already.”
Animal rights groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the U.S. Humane Society are active in trying to control dog populations, said Al Stinson of Williamston, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Pure Bred Dogs Association and Michigan Hunting Dog Federation – alliances of about 50 clubs around the state.
Stinson said there are bills pending across the nation to limit the number of dogs anyone can own. Other proposals would require all dogs to be spayed or neutered and outlaw hunting with dogs, all of which his groups and the American Kennel Club oppose.
None of these have been proposed as bills in the Michigan legislature.
“There’s a strong group that want to eliminate the term ‘animal owner’ and replace it with ‘animal guardian,’” said Stinson, a retired professor at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
He said animal cruelty groups define cruelty too broadly and under some definitions, “cleaning out a fish tank and dumping 10 guppies down the drain can be classified as a felony.”
Stinson said anyone who enjoys dogs treats them humanely and all purebred breeders in the state breed responsibly by having them tested for genetic disease. Breeders want to improve the health and quality of life of dogs by producing healthy animals that can live long lives.
The Michigan Humane Society, which has animal adoption centers in Detroit, Rochester Hills and Westland, does not oppose “responsible breeders” or ordinances that limit the number of pets a person can own, said public relations coordinator Jennifer Robertson.
“We are currently working on legislation for minimum care standards for animals in high-volume breeding facilities to make sure they are healthy, comfortable and well-cared for,” Robertson said.
The society also supports spaying and neutering pets to prevent overpopulation, she said. Its three centers care for 35,00 to 40,000 pets each year.
Dog shows are also an important part of the pet economy.
Speaking at the Capitol, Lt. Gov. John Cherry said the American Kennel Club estimates a weekend dog show can bring as much as $1 million to a local community. He used to participate in shows as a former breeder of springer spaniels.
“It’s a hobby that gives us joy,” Cherry said. “It’s important to teach responsible dog ownership.”
Stinson said there are 50 all-breed dog shows in Michigan with a total of 50,000 entries each year plus other shows for individual breeds and obedience and agility competitions.
“It’s a big business in Michigan and an important tourism attraction,” Stinson said. “There’s usually entries from 10 to 15 different states that come in for the shows.”
Erik Bergishagen, a Labrador retriever breeder from Troy and president of the Detroit Kennel Club, said its annual show at Cobo Hall is “prestigious” and brings 1,700 to 1,800 dogs over a weekend, as well as thousands of spectators.
“We have a benched dog show where dogs have to come in by 10 a.m. and don’t leave until 5 p.m.,” Bergishagen said. “There’s only five dog shows like this in the U.S.”
The other benched dog shows take place in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Franscisco and New York City, with the most famous being the Westminster Kennel Club’s show at Madison Square Garden, Bergishagen said.
“People from all over the country come and stay in our hotels,” Bergishagen said, noting that most other dog shows are “unbenched,” so participants can arrive shortly before their dog is showm and leave immediately after.
He said the boarding business has decreased in recent years with the declining economy because people aren’t traveling as much.
However, Jaeger said a lot of money is spent on dogs, and he touted their value to the state’s economy, with groomers, trainers, dog food companies and veterinarians all benefitting.
As a breeder of Brussels griffons, Jaeger owns eight dogs but said he typically has 12 to 14 dogs at a time, with vet bills of $5,000 to $6,000 a year.
“It all builds into keeping the state’s economy going,” Jaeger said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.