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Aldermen vote to close loophole in Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance

At the request of the American Kennel Club, the substitute ordinance approved by a City Council committee exempts “backyard breeding.” But Ald. Ray Lopez called that provision a mistake.

Chihuahuas rescued from a suspected puppy mill in Peotone. 
Chihuahuas rescued from a suspected puppy mill in Peotone. 
Sun-Times file

A loophole pet stores used to get around Chicago’s 2014 puppy mill ordinance by forming “sham rescue organizations” would be closed under a crackdown advanced Monday, though the new ordinance still allows “backyard breeding.”

Last summer, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) convinced the City Council’s Health and Human Relations Committee to approve a similar ordinance, but it was never called for a vote in the full Council. Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th) held the ordinance in committee.

On Monday, the brick was removed over the strenuous objections of pet store lobbyist Curt Fiedler and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who has proposed his own version targeting sub-standard breeders.

At the request of the American Kennel Club, however, “backyard breeding” is exempt from the substitute ordinance approved by the committee.

“People who love their breeds are, by definition, not going to be raising their dogs under cruel puppy mill conditions,” Hopkins said. “So we just took out those provision. As long as the hobbyist breeder is not acting as a shill for a commercial puppy mill, they’re exempt.”

Lopez branded the Hopkins ordinance ill-conceived and the backyard breeding exemption a mistake.

“Animals that wind up in shelters — they’re not because of puppy mills. They’re because of backyard breeding. That is something that overwhelmingly happens in African American and Latino communities for financial reasons,” Lopez said.

“Nobody’s selling pit bull puppies out of their trunk in a parking lot for security reasons. They’re selling it because it’s a quick, easy way to money in the city of Chicago by over-breeding these dogs. And if you’re now gonna give them the opportunity to do it legally, you’re only gonna exacerbate the problem — both for the amount of dogs that are in our pounds as well as for the health problems associated with poorly-bred animals with no standards.”

The ordinance approved Monday would force three remaining Chicago pet stores to make a choice.

They could sell dogs from rescue organizations and “legitimate” nonprofits that are not “fronting for puppy mills.” The stores also could charge an adoption fee to recover their costs. Or they could try to stay in business by selling only food and other pet supplies.

“These illegally-bred puppies are a very profitable item. If we take that away from them, it’ll impact their bottom line. But that isn’t my problem. If they’re making money supporting an industry characterized by inhumane cruelty, they need to stop doing it,” Hopkins said.

“Most of their customers would be appalled if they knew the truth.”

Fiedler countered that the ordinance “doesn’t solve the problem of puppy mills.”

“It’s not really the pet stores — especially ones that are doing it the right way — that are working with substandard breeders and these puppy mills. It’s actually now been the rescue communities — these retail rescues — that are going out and buying dogs at auction or directly from the substandard breeders,” Fiedler said.

“It is not solving your problem by shutting down pet stores. You’re actually worsening the problem because you’re not dealing with those entities that are actually providing the puppy mill puppies into the city of Chicago.”

Lane Boron owns Pocket Puppies, one of the three remaining Chicago pet stores.

“In my 15-year history, I’ve never had a violation,” Boron said. “There’s been a lot of demonization, half-lies and actual outright lies.”

The substitute ordinance advanced Monday 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 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.”

It is unacceptable to treat “domestic dogs ... as though they were cattle or hogs or chickens,” Hopkins said.

“We have bred dogs over centuries as human beings. We have intentionally bred them to rely on human companionship. They have not and never will be agricultural products,” the alderman said.

“Even the most humane commercial breeding operation still has hundreds of animals in cages without human companionship,” Hopkins added.

“They’re not played with. They’re not walked. They’re not even named. They’re given numbers. The sole purpose of these animals is to produce a profit.”