Any effort to weaken Chicago’s anti-puppy mill ordinance barks up the wrong tree

We instead support a proposal by Ald. Brian Hopkins to strengthen the ordinance by prohibiting pet shops from having any ownership or monetary interest in the animals offered for adoption.

SHARE Any effort to weaken Chicago’s anti-puppy mill ordinance barks up the wrong tree
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The Anti-Cruelty Society receives 27 dogs, March 2011, that were rescued from 3 Missouri puppy mills that went out of business.

Sun-Times Media

Chicago, once a city with among the highest rates of euthanasia for cats and dogs in the nation, has made strong progress in the last couple of decades to ensure the humane treatment of animals.

A major victory in this worthy cause came in 2014 when the City Council approved an ordinance that limits the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores only to those animals that come from shelters and humane adoption centers. The aim was to cut off the pipeline of puppies supplied to pet stores by unscrupulous for-profit puppy mills. More dogs and cats might also then be adopted from non-profit shelters.

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The ordinance has not been a complete success. No sooner was the legislation drafted than some players in the puppy mill industry began to reconstitute themselves as high-minded, non-profit rescue shelters, though sometimes the new entities were little or nothing more than fronts for business as usual. Critics of the ordinance also say it has just pushed the puppy mill problem elsewhere — online and to private breeders.

For all of that, we continue to support the 2014 ordinance as an important step in the right direction — greater safeguards against animal cruelty — and we oppose a proposal by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) to lift restrictions on pet shops.

On the contrary, we support a proposal by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) to strengthen the ordinance by prohibiting pet shops from having any ownership or monetary interest in the animals offered for adoption. People adopting the animals could be required to pay only a reasonable adoption fee — and nothing more.

Lopez was a leading supporter of the 2014 ordinance, but he says he has come to believe that the pet store restrictions have only served to encourage less regulated sales by online dealers and backyard breeders.

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We see two weaknesses in Lopez’ argument. First, he presents no evidence — no data or study — to show that the limits imposed by the ordinance have led to an increase in unethical pet sales elsewhere. And even if this were true, the answer is not to undo the good done so far.

As Hopkins told us, he may not be able to shut down every source of dogs cruelly bred in puppy mills, but he can go after the big, No. 1 source — brick-and-mortar retail outlets that sell them.

“Just because I can’t solve the problem 100%, it doesn’t mean that I should not solve the problem at 80%,” Hopkins told us. “Which I can do, and that’s what my legislation is about.”

In 1997, a Sun-Times story revealed how “pets have become throwaway items.” In the previous year, more than 40,000 cats and dogs in Chicago had been killed.

An estimated 84% of all animals that passed through the doors of Chicago Animal Care and Control facilities met their end by gas or lethal injection. Most of these animals, primarily dogs and cats, were deemed unsuitable for adoption.

Between 1997 and 2018, however, the incidence of euthanasia at CACC dropped by a whopping 93.3%, according to PAWS Chicago.

At least part of the credit for that progress fairly goes to the impact of the 2014 ordinance.

“Chicago has done a really good job promoting pet adoption and promoting a humane city,” Heather Owen, executive director of One Tail at a Time, told the Sun-Times. “If we suddenly open our city back to allowing commercial pet breeders and people looking for profits, then that could really hurt us and the pets who need homes.”

Puppy mills and the pet shops that keep working with them are committing fraud and failing to protect pet buyers, Cari Meyers, founder of Puppy Mill Project, told the Sun-Times. People end up paying large amounts of money for unhealthy dogs.

Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance should be strengthened, not weakened.

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