The dogs have had their day in Chicago––the cats and rabbits too. Chicago’s City Council approved a ban on the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores, forcing pet stores that deal in cats, dogs, and rabbits to go humane. The Companion Animal Protection Ordinance is aimed at protecting consumers by cutting off the supply from pet mills to city pet stores while focusing on finding more homes for Chicago’s abandoned pets.
“This ordinance will make Chicago a leader in animal welfare by cutting off the pipeline of animals coming from cruel puppy mills and moving us to a humane model,” says City Clerk Susana Mendoza, sponsor of the measure. “This protects consumers and will also help us find more homes for abandoned pets in Chicago. In 2012, Chicago Animal Care and Control took in over 20,000 pets and 39 percent were euthanized. The taxpayers foot the bill to feed, house, and euthanize all those animals.”
Pet stores are required by law to purchase dogs and cats from commercial breeding operations. The majority of these operations are puppy mills. These mills are licensed and inspected by the USDA, but continue to operate even after they are fined for violations. Although the origin of pet store pets is easily documented, consumers often don’t get the full story when purchasing a pet.
“Pet stores can’t be trusted to regulate themselves, and don’t following the existing law such as having an animal’s true origin on display,” says Chicago-area resident Bryan Phillips. “Most people don’t know about this and don’t know the right questions to ask. It’s easy to fall in love with that cute puppy face, I did. In my case, heartache set in a few days later when something wasn’t right.”
Phillips purchased a puppy he named Dakota from Happiness Is Pets two years ago at Christmas. She was diagnosed with distemper within days of his purchase. The outbreak hit several Happiness is Pets locations, with 11 confirmed cases. The rest of the puppies either died or were euthanized. Dakota, who continues to have health issues to this day, was the only puppy to survive the outbreak. These stories are not uncommon.
“I get complaints all the time from consumers that walk into a pet store, fall in love with a puppy, and are told that puppy came from a good breeder,” says Cari Meyers, founder of animal welfare group The Puppy Mill Project, who spearheaded the legislation. “After their pet becomes very ill or dies, then they do their research and discover the pet did in fact come from a puppy mill. It’s consumer fraud at its worst on the backs of legalized animal cruelty in the puppy mills.”
There are currently 16 stores in Chicago selling pets. They have until March 2015 to change their business model to adopting out rescued pets, or forgo dealing in cats, dogs, and rabbits altogether. While some of these stores predict they will go out of business, Chicago has many pet stores that have never sold pets that continue to thrive.
“I never actually referred to Mutt Hutt as a pet store,” says Donna Paseltiner, owner of Mutt Hutt in Chicago. “I always called us a pet supplies store, grooming, and dog walking/pet sitting facility. We have never sold pets of any kind and have signs stating that we are a pet-free pet store now and always have been. I am thrilled that others that do sell pets will finally join us in making the humane decision not to [sell pets] thanks to this ordinance.”
Like the Mutt Hutt, there are many pet stores and pet boutiques throughout Chicago that have never sold pets. They offer specialized food, pet products, and services like grooming and day care, and frequently host adoption events at their store.
Chicago will join 45 other North American cities that have banned the selling of puppy mill dogs in pet stores. With a large percentage of America’s puppy mills located in the Midwest, the Chicago ban should have a huge impact on the sale of puppy mill dogs in the region.