Rescued could soon be the number one breed at Chicago pet stores if an ordinance introduced to a city council committee today becomes law. The Companion Animal Protection Ordinance is aimed at banning the sale of commercially bred cats and dogs in Chicago’s Pet Stores and moving those stores to humane models focusing on adoption.
The ordinance is sponsored by City Clerk Susana Mendoza with a coalition of alderman and the effort has been spearheaded by The Puppy Mill Project, a local advocacy group that educates about the connection between puppy mills and pet stores and online pet sales. It’s aimed at reducing the fraud connected with pet store sales while reducing the number of pets euthanized in Chicago through adoption.
If passed, the ordinance will ban the sale of commercially bred cats and dogs at pet stores. From that point on, all cats and dogs must come from animal control, shelters or rescues. Stores will face a $1,000 a day fine for not complying. There are currently 16 pet stores that sell pets in Chicago. Many more have never sold pets and worked with rescues on adoption programs.
“We pay dearly for failing to curb the sale of puppy mill animals,” says Mendoza. “This legislation is going to save the lives of dogs and spare pet owners the heartache and cost of bringing a sick animal into their home. Also, I’m happy to say that this addresses a big challenge the City faces in terms of finding resources to care for strays and abandoned animals.”
You just need to look at the statistics for Chicago Animal Care and Control for the past several years to see the impact a Chicago pet store ban could have on Chicago’s homeless pet population. CACC, the city’s animal control facility, took in over 21,000 animals in 2011, euthanizing 9,624 or 46 percent of those animals. In 2012, over 19,000 animals came into CACC with 7,653 or 39 percent of the animals euthanized.
“About 25 percent of the animals that come into CACC are pure breeds and there is such a wide range in age and breeds that come in the door,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “This is a win-win situation because it opens the door for many more animals to be rescued. It also stops providing an outlet in Chicago for the sale of puppy mill dogs.”
“One Tail at a Time has puppies available for adoption,” says Heather Owen, one of the organization’s founders. “We're actually pretty overloaded with them and constantly getting requests from overrun shelters to help. If we had another outlet for adoptions, I think we could save a lot more lives.”
“We see a lot of pet store and pure bred or “designer” dogs in shelters and I think the biggest contributor to this is a lack of support and education from the pet stores,” says Tiffany Fraley of Be Fido’s Friend. “They sell a dog for profit to anyone with money. They don’t have the conversation about expectations, training, food, vetting, etc. People who buy dogs/cats from pet stores are typically uneducated about taking care of an animal and simply think this is the only way to get a pet.”
Pet stores and consumer fraud
According to the USDA, 99 percent of pets sold in pet stores come from large commercial breeding operations or puppy mills. Breeding dogs in puppy mills are kept in squalid conditions lacking the proper food, socialization, vetting and shelter. Puppies bred in these conditions are often sick or develop health issues later due to improper breeding. The Chicago pet store ban is aimed at stopping the sale of these types of pets in stores.
“We’ve been working to educate the public through protests and educational programs,” says Meyers. “Unfortunately, I still get calls and emails all the time from families that have purchased a puppy that has gotten very sick, very quickly or has an expensive congenital problem that could have been prevented by proper breeding.”
“The simple truth is that the laws currently in place are deficient for both the dogs being abused in puppy mills and the consumers being lied to in pet stores,” adds Owen. “If we cut off demand, it will drive supply down. It will also send a message that we don't tolerate systematic abuse and neglect of puppies in Chicago. We're a city of dog lovers and it's about time our laws reflect that.”
Although there are puppy mills in Illinois, most of the puppies sold at Chicago pet stores come from puppy mills in Missouri and Iowa. Those states poorly regulate the facilities and Iowa has very weak animal welfare laws.
A Puppy Lemon Law went into effect in Illinois on January 1 that provides some protection for consumers if a pet purchased in a pet store dies or becomes ill. Consumer fraud lawsuits have also been filed in the Chicago area from families that have purchased sick puppies from pet stores.
Humane models featuring adoption have been successful. Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville stopped selling dogs over two years ago and has worked with The Puppy Mill Project to transition. Greg Gordon and his staff worked with A Place to Bark and adopted out 400 dogs last year. The store also worked with rescues to adopt out around 150 cats.
The ordinance will be discussed in committee on February 26 and that committee will decide if it should move to the city council for a vote. The city has set up a website with information about the Companion Animal Protection Ordinance, a fact sheet and an online petition supporting the measure.
If the ordinance passes, Chicago will become the 41st U.S. city and 45th in North American to ban the sale of companion animals in pet stores according to Best Friends Animal Society. Albuquerque passed the first ban in 2006 and Los Angeles and Phoenix are among the cities to pass bans in the past 18 months.
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