A local lawmaker’s legislation concerning the regulation of pet shops has taken another step towards becoming law, despite opposition from animal rights groups.

On Tuesday, the State Senate Agriculture Committee approved a pair of House bills proposed by Handy Township Republican Hank Vaupel critics contend would diminish local control over pet shops and ultimately be harmful to puppies. But Vaupel, a retired veterinarian, insists the legislation actually supports animal welfare. At the center of the debate is House Bill 5917, which Vaupel says would prevent a county, city, village or township from banning pet shops. "These family-owned pet shops play an important role in our communities. If they close up shop, more families will be pushed toward online vendors and unregulated breeds, not realizing they don't have much recourse if the puppy is sick or the transaction turns out to be a scam."

But among those testifying Tuesday against the bill was Melinda Szabelski, supervisor of the Humane Society of Huron Valley's animal cruelty and rescue department. She said it would strip local law enforcement of any type of regulation, investigation or inspection power over pet shops. That sentiment was echoed by Molly Tamulevich, Michigan state director for the Humane Society of the United States, who said that pet stores that sell puppies, “pose a number of problems for communities, and the local elected officials representing those communities must retain the right to address them."

State law currently tasks the regulation of pet shops to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. But state officials say they stopped those activities in 2009 due to budget constraints and the job has largely fallen to local animal control departments. Officials with the Humane Society for the United States said the bills give consumers a “false sense” that pet stores are regulated in Michigan, and that the legislation serves largely to, “protect cruel puppy mills and their pet store sales outlets.”

But Vaupel defends the legislation and says it will actually strengthen existing regulations by requiring puppies to be micro-chipped and prohibit pet shops from buying them from large-scale breeders that are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The bills passed the House largely along party lines last month with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. They could go to the full Senate as early as Thursday. (JK)