Chicago’s anti-puppy mill legislation goes countywide

Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims (5th District) purchased her beloved Maltese from a pet store; she claims the animal is starting to show genetic disorders indicative of inbreeding. (Photo: Chicago Clout)

Early last month, Chicago passed legislation banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits, in pet stores.

On Wednesday, March 5, the Chicago City Council voted 49-1 in favor of the Companion Animal & Consumer Protection Ordinance, which prohibits all retail pet shops within the city limits from selling pets provided to them by large-scale commercial breeders, otherwise known as puppy mills, rabbit mills, or kitten factories. This means the 16 affected Chicago stores will have to adopt a more humane business model and work with local animal shelters if they’d still like to sell pets.

Now, Chicago suburbs are following suit. On April 9, the Cook County Board voted unanimously 15-0 to not only expand Chicago’s ban, but to put the measure into effect a whole five months earlier. Starting in October of this year, pet stores countywide will not be able to sell dogs, cats, or bunnies supplied by large mills.

The Cook County measure does allow for stores to sell pets from small, responsible, licensed breeders with five or fewer breeding animals. And towns with home rule powers — usually those towns with more than 25,000 residents — could choose to opt out of the restrictions, the Red Eye reports. But the hope is that pet stores within county limits will instead choose to work with government shelters, animal rescue groups, and humane societies to boost adoption rates and save the lives of more homeless pets.

“I’m thrilled, just thrilled,” Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project, tells Chicago Now. “This will not only save the lives of thousands of pets facing euthanasia, it will stop stores from supporting the systemic, large-scale cruelty that is the basis of puppy mills.”

Meyers and several other animal advocates, including Molly Marino, founder of the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue, testified at Wednesday’s hearing about the connection between puppy mills and retail pet stores.

“Dogs are kept in small cages without adequate food and water and bred over and over again,” Myers said. “The dogs are overbred and puppies often have congenital problems and many other health issues. Consumers often learn the truth after they purchase a puppy and bring them home.”

Marino explained that her group often rescues dogs that exhibit many of the health issues commonly found in pets who come from mass-breeding operations, issues such as rotting teeth, eye infections, and lasting conditions that result from botched caesarian section operations clearly not performed by licensed veterinarians. Many dogs from puppy mills also have genetic disorders indicative of inbreeding.

Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims says she has firsthand knowledge of the issue. Sims loves her Maltese, but admits she purchased her dog from a pet store.

“The more I hear this, the angrier I get. Because all of the symptoms you guys are talking about, my dog is starting to display,” Sims says.

“This will put them on notice,” she continues, explaining why she voted in favor of the ordinance. “If you are buying puppies from puppy mills you need to stop. Nobody wants to put these [stores] out of business. But, if these businesses are doing the right thing, that shouldn’t even be their concern.”

Many of the voices of opposition came in the form of pet shop owners and operators. Brian Winslow, the Regional Director of one of the area’s most successful (and perhaps controversial) pet shops, Petland, tells CBS Chicago believes the suburban ban will do nothing except shutter businesses. He believes lawmakers should instead target bad breeders.

“The vast majority of breeders maintain facilities that far exceed the USDA Animal Welfare Act standard, but unfortunately those breeders are never given credit,” Winslow says. “Also unfortunately, the past misdeeds of the extreme minority of breeders tends to tarnish all breeders.”

And Jim Maciejewski, owner of the Chicago Ridge, Illinois Petland store, agrees.

“My staff are called pet counselors — they are not associates, they are not sales people… We love any animal in our store,” Maciejewski tells the Chicago Sun Times. “I firmly believe the ordinance, as it is proposed today, will not address any of the issues it claims to. All it will do is put me out of business.”

The Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) also voiced their opposition to the countywide ban, explaining that large-scale public education would be a much more effective way to combat puppy mills.

“Such breeders are likely to find a way to circumvent the letter of the law and still maintain their pet sales via other avenues,” the CVMA said in a statement.

But Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, who proposed the ban, knows that this measure is only one step in the fight against mills, acknowledging that a possible future measure would be to prevent retailers from selling dogs supplied by out-of-state-breeders.

“If I cannot regulate them directly because they are out of state, we’re going to try to cut off the demand for those dogs and cats here and, at the same time, reduce the number,” Fritchey explains.

Sources: Chicago Sun Times, Chicago Now, Red Eye