By Kathy Mordini
Chicago could soon be joining 40 other U.S. cities and four communities in Canada in banning the sale of commercially bred cats and dogs in the city’s pet stores. The Companion Animal Protection Ordinance, sponsored by City Clerk Susana Mendoza, has been spearheaded by The Puppy Mill Project, a local advocacy group that educates the public about the pet store/puppy mill connection.
The ordinance will prohibit the sale of puppies, kittens, cats, and dogs and will require pet stores to only sell animals obtained from animal controls, shelters, and other humane adoption organizations.
According to USDA records, an estimated 99 percent of pets sold in pet stores come from mass breeding operations, also known as puppy mills. “We pay dearly for failing to curb the sale of puppy mill animals,” says Mendoza. “This legislation is going to save the lives of dogs and spare pet [parents] the heartache and cost of bringing a sick animal into their home. Also, I’m happy to say that this addresses a big challenge the City faces in terms of finding resources to care for strays and abandoned animals.”
Chicago Animal Care and Control, Chicago’s official animal control facility, took in over 21,000 animals in 2011, euthanizing 46 percent (9,624) of those that were admitted. In 2012, over 19,000 animals came into CACC with 39 percent (7,652) of those animals euthanized. Only 7 percent of the animals that came into animal control were adopted out.
“This is a win-win for Chicagoans and all the homeless animals in our community that are just looking for a second chance,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “Our goal from the start has been to work with pet stores on humane models that feature pets available for adoption. It saves lives and city resources.”
“Rescues are such a great source of support, not only to find a pet but as a resource once you add a pet [to your home] so that all goes smoothly,” says Tiffany Fraley of rescue group Be Fido’s Friend. “For instance, if Fido isn’t housebroken upon purchase and the new [caregiver] doesn’t understand they have to teach the dog where to go potty, sometimes they give up when a simple solution could be to talk about routines, neutering, etc…rescues are here for this.”
Fraley pointed out that she often meets people at her veterinarians office when she is taking rescues in to be vetted that have recent pet store purchases. They are there because their one pound “pocket pup” is sick, lethargic, or suffering from some other ailment.
“These pets often become more than the family can handle and then end up getting re-homed or relinquished to shelters, adding to the pet homelessness problem that overcrowds all of our shelters and rescues,” says Alicia Obando of Pets are Like Family, a group which offers resources for families in need. “Choosing to adopt not only saves a homeless animal, but through the process of careful deliberation and adoption counseling, [it increases] the chances of a match that is in the best interest for the family and the pet.”
Chicago has 16 pet stores that currently sell pets. Many other pet stores have been humane models from the start, opting to focus on hosting adoption events and fostering or working with rescues instead. The 16 stores would need to transition from selling cats and dogs to offering a humane model that features pet adoption as soon as the ordinance is passed and published. Stores that don’t comply will face fines of up to $1,000 a day.
“We have worked with Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville for the past several years as he transitioned to a humane model,” says Meyers. “Greg Gordon, the owner, adopted out around 400 dogs of all ages last year and over 150 cats. His goal is 500 this year. It can be done. There are rescue organizations throughout Chicago willing to work with stores to make this happen.”
“We have been working very hard to educate consumers about the pet store and puppy mill connection,” continues Meyers. “We hold protests outside of stores and talk to schools and community groups. However, I still get so many calls and emails from families that have purchased puppies from pet stores and are told that they come from reputable breeders. The puppy ends up sick and either dies or the family faces huge medical bills to start.”
Illinois’ Puppy Lemon Law went into effect January 1, 2014, and provides consumers some protection. Stores must reimburse families for the cost of the pet and veterinary bills if a sick pet is sold. There is also a Pet Store Disclosure Act in Illinois that requires stores to list the origin of pets on or near the cage in their stores. Most often, that information is behind the corner and only is shown to consumers if they ask.
Mendoza’s office has set up a website with information about the ordinance that includes a fact sheet and a petition of support. The ordinance was introduced to committee on the morning on February 5. The committee will debate and vote on the proposed ordinance on February 26. If it passes, the full city council will vote on the Companion Animal Protection Ordinance on March 5.
Kathy Mordini is an animal lover who has counted rescue pets as a member of her family since she was a child. As a writer, she is passionate about advocating for homeless pets and the rescues that give these pets a second chance. She also volunteers for The Puppy Mill Project. She also blogs about pet rescue and trends for ChicagoNow.