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Alderman moves to close legal loophole in Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance

The loophole has allowed pet shops to thumb their noses at the 2014 puppy mill ordinance by forming what Ald. Brian Hopkins called “phony rescue organizations.”

Chihuahuas peer from their crate in the PAWS Animal Shelter in Tinley Park, Ill., in March 2008. The dogs were rescued following a raid on a suspected puppy mill in Peotone.
A loophole allowed pet shops to ignore a city ordinance banning purchases from puppy mills by forming their own rescue groups. These chihuahuas were rescued from a suspected puppy mill in Peotone.
Sun-Times file

Six years ago, the City Council moved to cut off the pipeline of puppies purchased in Chicago that come from for-profit breeders condemned as puppy mills.

The watered-down anti-cruelty ordinance championed by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) at the behest of then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza limited the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits at Chicago’s 16 pet stores to animals coming from shelters and humane adoption centers.

The effective date was delayed a year to allow pet stores to unload their inventory of animals and adopt a “more humane” sales model — or stop selling animals entirely.

Wednesday, Hopkins moved to close a legal loophole that allows pet shops to thumb their noses at the puppy mill ordinance by forming what he called “phony rescue organizations.”

“They form non-profits associated with puppy breeders. They’ll form a 501(c)(3) organization and call it `Beagle Rescue’ or something like that and they give the puppies to these fake rescue groups that supply pet shops. The pet shop can legitimately claim they’re not getting puppies from puppy mills, but they really are. There’s just a phony middle-man,” Hopkins said.

“This has come to our attention. One of them was … prosecuted by the Iowa attorney general for operating a breeding mill in rural Iowa. And we found out that a lot of the pups were winding up at Chicago pet shops.”

During the 2014 debate, Cari Meyers of the Puppy Mill Project-Chicago described what she called a “puppy hell” where breeders raise adorable puppies in “unspeakable cruelty.”

On Wednesday, Hopkins described similar conditions to justify closing the legal loophole.

“They engage in a lot of cross breeding. It opens the door to all sorts of diseases and illnesses that dogs become prone to. They’re bred in less than humane conditions because the whole point is to have the breeding pair produce as many pups as possible, knowing that there’s such a high price per pup,” Hopkins said.

“They’re not properly cared for. They’re not treated as pets. When we adopt them, they’re treated as pets. But the breeding animals are treated as agricultural commodities,” Hopkins added.

“They’re treated more like hogs,” he said. “That’s offensive to people. Especially people who think they’re doing a good thing by buying a so-called rescue dog when, in reality, they’re doing the exact opposite. They’re putting money and profit into a system that is inherently cruel.”

The ordinance introduced at Wednesday’s virtual City Council meeting allows pet shops to provide space to an animal shelter or rescue organization to house and display dogs, cats and rabbits for adoption.

But it also states: “The pet shop shall not have any ownership or monetary interest in the animals displayed for adoption. The animals may only be transferred to an adopting individual for a nominal adoption fee.”

The ordinance also makes it clear that rescue organizations must not “include any person who: is a commercial producer; obtains dogs, cats or rabbits from a commercial producer; facilitates the sale for profit of a dog, cat or rabbit for a commercial producer; has common personnel with a commercial producer, including employees, managers, board members or is an affiliated business of a commercial producer.”