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Legal loophole in puppy mill ordinance closed by aldermen

Surviving Chicago pet stores have managed to get around 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.
Chihuahuas rescued from a suspected puppy mill in Peotone.
Sun-Times file

A legal loophole that has allowed pet shops to thumb their noses at Chicago’s 2014 puppy mill ordinance was slammed shut on Monday after a heartfelt debate.

Six years ago, the City Council moved to cut off the pipeline of puppies for sale 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 for one year to allow pet stores to unload their inventory of animals and transfer to a “more humane” sales model or stop selling animals entirely in favor of selling pet food and supplies.

On Monday, the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations moved to close a legal loophole that has allowed pet shops to get around that ordinance by forming what Hopkins has called “phony rescue organizations.”

Marc Ayers, Illinois director for the Humane Society of the United States, noted that Iowa’s attorney general recently cracked down on “sham rescues.”

“Two of those fake rescues that they have just shut down were notorious for selling to the three remaining stores violating the intent of the Chicago ordinance,” Ayers said.

Cari Meyers, of the Puppy Mill Project Chicago, accused the city’s three remaining pet stores of “committing fraud against consumers” and the city “by saying these are rescue dogs, which they are not.”

“They are coming from the mills. They are the exact same dogs that have been in the stores before. And they are charging thousands of dollars for these dogs. I don’t know a rescue in the world that would be able to have a $1,000 rescue fee for any dog,” Meyers said.

The ordinance advanced 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.”

“If you could see the inhumane manner in which these puppy mills operate, no Chicago pet owner that I know would want their money to go to support an industry like that,” Hopkins said Monday.

“It’s abhorrent. It’s offensive. And the only way it can exist is in the darkness.”

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th) wondered what will happen to the puppies if Chicago’s three remaining pet stores are forced to shut down. She’s the proud owner of Lola, a dog she called “the love of my life” that she bought from Pocket Puppies.

She was reassured that the dogs would not be euthanized, but rather transferred to “other existing stores” in the Chicago area.