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Associated Press • Apr 14, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Families mourn dogs killed in Michigan kennel fire

MUSKEGON (AP) — Families and community members mourned the loss of 30 dogs at a memorial service after a western Michigan kennel was engulfed in flames.

Clock Funeral Home in Muskegon held the service Thursday to honor the pets that died in the fire at Storm's Ahead Kennels in Fruitport Township. The kennel was full when the fire occurred March 30, the first day of spring break for many local families.

"We've received support from friends and family over the whole process," said Nick Buckner, who lost his 11-month-old puppy Remington. "It's how we ended our spring break trip, so that was difficult, but it was an accident. So we try to understand that and take things as it comes."

Kennel owner Janet Rehfus said during the service that there aren't enough words for how bad she feels.

"That Friday morning making the phone calls to each and every one of you, certainly a nightmare that I never imagined that I would have to do," she said.

Firefighters couldn't recue the dogs from the kennel, which was already covered in flames when they arrived. Authorities determined the fire was an accident, but haven't yet identified the cause.

Rehfus shared anecdotes about the dogs playing together and needing coaxing to return indoors.

"They're now with their friends," Funeral Director Jodi Clock told the grieving families. "They were with their friends when this happened and they are with their friends now."

Michigan GOP sets 2 debates before gubernatorial primary

LANSING (AP) — Republicans running for Michigan governor will participate in two televised debates before the August primary election.

The debates were announced Friday by the state Republican Party.

WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids will host the first debate on May 9. WDIV-TV in Detroit will host the second debate on June 28. Additional details will follow at a later date.

All four viable candidates will participate: Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Dr. Jim Hines.

Democratic candidates also are expected to debate each other, but negotiations continue.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is planning a joint debate for candidates from both parties to be held at the group's annual policy conference on Mackinac Island in late May.

Michigan secures federal money to build 2 veterans homes

LANSING (AP) — Michigan will proceed with building two new veterans homes in Grand Rapids and the Detroit area after securing federal aid on Friday, a key step in a plan to revamp how nursing care is provided to veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs authorized the state to spend up to $123 million, including about $80 million in federal money. A $42 million state match for the two projects had been approved by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature in 2016.

Snyder said the federal funding "will pave the way for new, modern facilities that are long overdue and will better meet the needs of our veterans." He added in a statement that veterans "deserve the absolute best."

Michigan has two veterans homes, one in Grand Rapids and another in Marquette, that house nearly 460 veterans. The state will replace and downsize the one in Grand Rapids — which has grappled with problems such as insufficient care and inadequate staffing levels — and build a new home in the Detroit area. They will each have 128 beds, as part of a long-term initiative to transition from two homes in the western and far-northern regions of Michigan to seven new, smaller ones spread across the state.

The current multi-story, hospital-like buildings will be jettisoned for modern houses that are more like a real "home."

The Michigan Veterans Facility Authority wants to begin construction on the new Grand Rapids facility in September. It will be located near the existing home.

The search continues for a site in southeast Michigan.

Independent tests show Flint water quality is improving

FLINT (AP) — Independent tests are confirming that water quality in Flint has improved.

The tests were required under a legal settlement between the state of Michigan and Flint residents. The Natural Resources Defense Council said Friday that tests at 92 homes showed lead levels far below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion.

NRDC attorney Dimple Chaudhary says the results "are promising." The work was performed by Susan Masten of Michigan State University.

Gov. Rick Snyder last week cited water quality as a reason to stop offering free bottled water. The decision isn't unanimous. Mayor Karen Weaver wants free water until all pipes are replaced at homes, a job that will last another 18 months or more.

Protesters gathered at the state Capitol this week to criticize Snyder's decision.

2-ton sections of iconic Mackinac Bridge up for sale

ST. IGNACE (AP) — A chunk of the Mackinac Bridge can be yours if you can get it home — which is easier said than done.

Sections of the bridge's original steel grating are going on the auction block. Each one is about 5.5 feet wide, 38 feet long and weighs two tons.

Seven identical sections of the grating will be sold in an online auction that ends April 19 at 9 a.m.

The bridge authority says it will cut a section into two shorter pieces if the buyer wants and will load them for transport.

Woman who didn't live with late husband seeks inheritance

SAGINAW (AP) — Can a woman inherit from her husband's estate if they lived apart for more than 30 years?

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a dispute about the relationship between Maggie Erwin and her late husband, James Erwin Sr. The case could break new ground in estate law.

The Erwins were married in 1968 and had four children, but the Saginaw couple didn't live together after 1976. James Erwin died in 2012 without a will.

Michigan law says a spouse can lose inheritance rights if he or she was "willfully absent" for a year or more. But the law doesn't define "willfully absent."

Maggie Erwin's attorney said she still maintained "emotional bonds" with James Erwin. Valerie Kutz-Otway said it's a "crazy world," and spouses live separately for many reasons.

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