If all had gone according to plan, you would no longer be able to purchase a commercially bred dog, cat, or rabbit in Chicago and Cook County pet stores.
Just a year ago, Chicago’s City Council and and Cook County Commissioners approved the Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Acts. The ordinances prohibited the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats, and rabbits to make way for rescue animals in pet stores.
The ordinances, which were due to go into effect on October 1, 2014 in Cook County and March 5, 2015 in Chicago, are now on hold while several pet stores fight to stop them from being implemented in federal court. Both the city and county have agreed to delay implementing the laws until federal judges make a ruling on the cases.
So far, there are over 70 North American municipalities that have enacted bans on the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats. However, Chicago and Cook County are the two largest communities in the heart of the Midwest—home to the majority of the U.S. puppy mills—that have attempted to enact pet store bans.
We have now become ground zero in the battle between puppy mills and the advocates who want to shut down their business. In the meantime, local officials are vowing the new ordinances won’t go down without a fight.
“Last year, the Mayor, our aldermen, animal advocates, and residents stood together to oppose puppy mills and their legacy of animal cruelty,” says Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza. “Now we have to come together again. The puppy mill industry, which is behind this challenge to our law, puts profits first. Clearly, they don’t share our values when it comes to the compassionate treatment of dogs, cats, and rabbits.”
Mendoza had spent two years working behind the scenes on the Chicago ordinance in conjunction with advocacy group The Puppy Mill Project to get the city legislation passed. Two local pet stores, Pocket Puppies and Park Pet Store, in conjunction with Missouri breeder Cedar Woods Farm, filed the Chicago suit.
“I was not surprised in the least that the lawsuits were filed,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “These stores have always put profits over the humane treatment of the animals and won’t change to a humane model. We’ve seen that a humane model featuring adoption does work, but it requires stores to work harder to sell food and other pet products with a lower profit margin.”
Since the ordinances passed last year, Puppies R Us on Ashland has closed up shop. Portage Park’s Hug-a-Pup closed its current shop, but opened up a new location in Northwest Indiana. Petland and Happiness Is Pets, both with a strong presence in the suburbs, have been very vocal as they push for home rule communities to opt out of the county law.
The Arlington Heights Happiness is Pets and the Petland franchises in Hoffman Estates and Chicago Ridge have joined forces with the Missouri Pet Breeders Association to challenge the Cook County law. The lawsuits claim, among other things, that the ordinances interfere with interstate commerce and violate the pet stores’ constitutional rights.
Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills
In both local lawsuits, the plaintiffs have pointed out that when the laws were passed last year, they didn’t have the support of three large veterinary associations—the America Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.
Those three groups believed that consumers had adequate protection thanks to Illinois’ so-called Puppy Lemon Law, which entitles a financial remedy, among other things, to people who have bought a sick dog or cat from a pet store. That stance caused some waves in the veterinary community since members of the three organizations weren’t directly consulted before they put out an “official” statement. In response, Dr. Scott Rovner of Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, Dr. Jane Lohmar of Family Pet Animal Hospital, and noted pet expert Steve Dale founded Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills.
“We really do a need an organization made up of veterinary professionals that is willing to do what we can to shut down puppy mills from whatever avenue we can,” says Dr. Lohmar. “We can do this through shrinking the demand and educating our clients more about how and where to find the right pet for their family. Consumers need to realize that no reputable breeder sells their puppies at pet stores; they want control over who purchases their pets.”
Family Pet Animal Hospital has seen many sick and unsocialized puppies come into the practice shortly after they were purchased. Those animals certainly have their issues, however it’s the breeding dogs who finally get rescued after years in the mills that motivate her stance.
“I’ve seen many horrible cases, but it’s one Dachshund that always comes to mind,” explains Dr. Lohmar. “There were so many things wrong with her—mammary cancer, dental disease, herniation in her abdomen because her C-sections hadn’t been properly sutured, and heartworm. I had to prioritize her health issues for her to have a chance. She was incredible and ended up living many years.” The life of dogs who are held hostage in puppy mills, forced to have litter after littler, while existing in filthy, unsafe, and unhealthy environments, deserve more.
Along with the two Chicago lawsuits, other federal cases are pending in East Providence, RI, Sunrise, FL and Phoenix, AZ. It is up to animal advocates to help put an end to this type of torture and cruelty. While these castes work their way through court, groups like The Puppy Mill Project, Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills, and other similar organizations will keep educating and working to make a difference in the fight against puppy mills.