Puppy mill crackdown advanced to full City Council

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Chicago pet stores would be prohibited from selling puppies from for-profit breeders, under a crackdown on puppy mills advanced Tuesday amid comparisons to the ridiculed and repealed ban on foie gras.

After a nearly three-hour hearing that drew a standing-room-only crowd, the City Council’s License and Consumer Protection Committee approved a watered-down anti-cruelty ordinance tailor made to shut down puppy mills — or at least cut off their access to 16 Chicago pet stores.

City Clerk Susana Mendoza’s original version would have given pet store owners just three months to sell off their inventory of puppies supplied by for-profit breeders. 

The new version extends the transition to one year, which Mendoza called “very generous” and twice as long as Los Angeles gave its pets stores to transfer to, what she called, a “more humane model” of doing business.

“Maybe they just sell animal supplies. Frankly, the animal supply and accessory industry—food supplies and accessories—makes much more money than the live animal sales industry,” the clerk said.

“If you don’t want to change your way of doing business, I will not lose a wink of sleep knowing that we’ve put a bad business out of business in this city.”

Lane Boron, owner of Pocket Puppies Boutique, 2479 N. Clark, scoffed at Mendoza’s suggestion that his 600-square-foot store could compete against PetSmart and PetCo, which buy pet food and supplies in bulk.

Instead, Boron warned that 16 Chicago pet stores would be forced out of business based on “hearsay” evidence of inhumane conditions.

“I can open in the suburbs. My customers will follow me there. But, what about my nine employees, blue-collar workers, your constituents? They can’t afford cars. They can’t follow me,” Boron said, urging aldermen to “grandfather in” existing pet shops.

“This is not foie gras, aldermen, that you can throw in the garbage. These are 16 businesses with employees — workers with families, workers with children, workers whose livelihoods depend on these businesses. By voting for this ordinance in its present form, you will force people into the unemployment line with no reference facts.”

Cari Meyers of the Puppy Mill Project-Chicago described a “puppy hell” where breeders raise adorable puppies in “unspeakable cruelty:” confined, filthy quarters where the dogs are raped repeatedly and produce unhealthy puppies.

“We were stunned to find out that puppy mills were legal, U.S.D.A.-licensed and inspected. In a word, we walked into puppy hell,” Meyers said.

“We all get very upset when we hear about one dog suffering from animal cruelty. Can you possibly wrap your heads around 300 or 500 at a time that are suffering cruelty? It’s unbelievable. It’s a monolithic problem in this country — surely nothing we as a humane city want to be a part of.”

Boron said he has traveled to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri to visit the breeders he uses in-person. He also checks their safety records on-line.

“Are there abuses in the industry? Of course. But, do we eliminate that industry or do we reform it? Do we make it better? Are you gonna shut down nursing homes because we all know there’s abuses in nursing homes?” he said.

“I’ve seen videos presented by the Humane Society of pigs being tortured before slaughter… Are we gonna require that vegetables to be served at Carson’s Ribs instead of ribs?”

The ordinance expected to be approved by the full City Council on Wednesday would limit the retail sale of dogs and cats at Chicago pet stores to those animals that come from shelters and humane adoption centers.

The ordinance is aimed at improving what the clerk calls deplorable living conditions for dogs sold to Chicagoans. An ancillary benefit would be easing the burden on taxpayers by increasing adoption and reducing the need to euthanize strays.

Mendoza noted that 20,000 strays come to the city pound every year. Taxpayers pay to treat, feed and, sadly euthanize as many as 9,000 animals each year, up to 40 percent of those seized at an annual cost of $300,000, she said.

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