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Council closes puppy mill loophole, gives home businesses ‘wiggle room’

The ordinance, championed by Ald. Brian Hopkins, seeks to slam the door on “sham” rescue groups. It passed over strong objections from pet store owners and Ald. Ray Lopez, who has proposed his own version targeting substandard breeders.

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

The City Council agreed Wednesday to close a loophole in Chicago’s puppy mill ordinance and give the burgeoning number of home businesses created during the pandemic more “wiggle room.”

The puppy mill ordinance championed by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) is tailor-made to slam the door on “sham rescue organizations.”

It passed over the strenuous objections of pet store owners and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who has proposed his own version targeting substandard breeders.

Lopez has branded the ordinance ill-conceived and the decision to exempt backyard breeding — at the behest of the American Kennel Club — 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 has 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.”

The existing ordinance had said dogs, cats and rabbits sold at Chicago pet stores could come only from shelters and humane adoption centers. But some pet shops were getting around that requirement by forming what Hopkins has called “phony rescue organizations.”

The ordinance approved Wednesday 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.

Pet store lobbyist Curt Fiedler has argued 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.”

The massive rewrite of Chicago’s home business ordinance that passed Wednesday was championed by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s former City Council floor leader.

Most notably, it will give businesses more breathing room by increasing their allowable space — from 10% of the home to either 25% or 300 square feet, whichever is greater.

“This is vital because it helps move Chicago towards a more robust and accessible economic recovery by giving Chicagoans the wiggle room they need to make ends meet—even when that room is at their home,” Villegas told his colleagues participating both in-person and virtually.

“This is just the beginning of the support we’ll be working on for small businesses and the entrepreneur community, especially for women and working-class business owners who have suffered the most from the impact of COVID-19.”

Also during Wednesday’s action-packed meeting:

• Aldermen gave final sign-off to Lightfoot’s plan to overhaul the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance to chip away at a 120,000-unit shortage of affordable housing units.

• The Council approved the mayor’s plan to protect Chicago employees who take time off to get the coronavirus vaccine by shielding them all forms of retaliation and compensating them for the time it takes.

• Aldermen authorized the latest in a series of pre-summer crackdowns to stop motorcycle clubs from wreaking life-threatening havoc on Lake Shore Drive and city streets.

The ordinance championed by Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) empowers Chicago Police officers to impound motorcycles, dirt bikes and other “nonhighway vehicles” accused of drifting and drag racing. The ordinance would also impose stiff fines against motorcyclists who operate without license plates.

• Ald. George Cardenas (12th) proposed his own crackdown on drag racing and joy riding on private property. The ordinance targets both spectators and participants.

• Lightfoot proposed appointing attorney Lester Barclay to replace Terry Peterson on the CTA board. It was not known whether Barclay also would replace Peterson as board president.

• Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) introduced an ordinance that would narrow — from the entire city to “socio-economically disadvantaged area residents” — the requirement that Chicagoans comprise 50% of the workforce on city construction contracts valued at more than $100,000.

—By a vote of 26 to 24, aldermen agreed to hold in committee an ordinance authorizing a zoning change needed to pave the way for a marijuana dispensary in Jefferson Park. Local Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) supports the dispensary and demanded an immediate vote. Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) said his members were prepared to vote against it because of the absence of “equity participation.”