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Banning Cruelty: A Big Win for Chicago’s Animals

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By Kathy Mordini

The clock is ticking for Chicago pet stores that currently sell commercially bred dogs, cats, and rabbits. Starting in March 2015, Chicago’s Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Act bans pet stores from selling animals from mills, forcing stores that would like to continue dealing in live animals to go humane.

“By banning the sales of dogs, cats, and rabbits, we can cut the pipeline of animals coming from the horrendous puppy mill industry,” says City Clerk Susana Mendoza, who worked with the non-profit advocacy group The Puppy Mill Project for more than two years to develop the ordinance and build support with Chicago’s alderman. “It moves us toward a retail pet sales model that focuses on adopting out the many, many homeless animals in need of loving homes in this city.”

She went on to explain that some pet stores repeatedly misrepresent where they obtain their animals. Ending the sale of specific pets curtails this practice and encourages adoption. Stores have one year to change their business model or face fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 a day.

“Our goal isn’t to shut the stores down, but to work with them as they develop a new way of doing business that focuses on saving homeless animals,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “We’ve worked successfully with stores in the past to change their way of doing business.”

Cari Meyers and Susana Mendoza marching for Puppy Mill Awareness Day. Image: The Puppy Mill Project

Cari Meyers and Susana Mendoza marching for Puppy Mill Awareness Day. Image: The Puppy Mill Project

Under the new ordinance, stores can obtain animals from animal control centers, shelters, or rescues, develop their own adoption programs, or work with humane, non-profit groups on adoption events. Although some stores have threatened to close up shop for good or move operations to the suburbs, most stores in the city do not sell pets.

“I have been advocating for the humane model since before I even opened my store,” says Katie Pottenger of Parker’s in Hyde Park. She testified at a hearing in support of the ordinance in March. “We hold adoption events and support rescue groups. I have two rescued puppy mill dogs. My business is thriving because we focus on making pets’ lives better through healthy food and products.”

Of the 9,000 pet stores in the nation, just a third sell animals. Americans spent $55.5 billion on their pets last year alone, according to the American Pet Products Association. Only a small portion of that––$2.31 billion––was on the sale of live animals. However, the profit margin is huge on pet sales. At the city hearing prior to the vote on the ordinance, Lane Boron of Pocket Puppies in Chicago testified that the teacup and small toy breed dogs in his store sell for $850 to $4,000.

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A proud puppy mill survivor. Image: The Puppy Mill Project

“There is another way to do business, if stores are interested in changing their focus,” says Rich Forsythe of Ruff Haus Pets in Lincoln Square. “From day one, I didn’t think that selling animals was important for the survival of my store. Rescue, however, is important for the survival of the many homeless pets in Chicago. I’ve always had rescues and wanted to be part of that community.”

Chicago joins 45 other North American cities that ban the selling of commercially bred pets. With a large percentage of America’s puppy mills located in the Midwest, the ban should have a huge impact on the sale of mill animals in the region.

Support The Puppy Mill Project
You can support the efforts of The Puppy Mill Project at its annual Mothers in the Mills benefit on Saturday, May 10, at John Barleycorn in River North. The event honors the mother dogs left behind in puppy mills and raises funds for the organization to continue its work building awareness about puppy mills. Visit ThePuppyMillProject.org to learn more.

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