Chicago expected to ban puppy mill sales in pet stores tomorrow

Chicago is one vote away from becoming the first Midwestern city to ban the sale of puppy mill dogs (and cats and rabbits) in pet stores. After hearing testimony on both sides of the issue today, the Committee on Licensing & Consumer Protection voted unanimously to pass the Companion Animal Protection Ordinance on for full city council vote tomorrow. If passed, the 16 pet stores that sell puppies will have one year to comply with the new city guidelines.

Update: The vote passed 49-1. Please read the updated story here.

Cari Meyers from The Puppy Mill Project testifies before a Chicago City Council Committee. Susana Mendoza looks on.

Cari Meyers from The Puppy Mill Project testifies before a Chicago City Council Committee. Susana Mendoza looks on.

The measure sponsored by City Clerk Susana Mendoza and spearheaded by The Puppy Mill Project will ban the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores. If stores want to continue to deal in pets, they must shift to a humane model that offers animals from animal control, shelters, rescues or humane organizations to consumers.

During testimony today, Mendoza, Cari Meyers of The Puppy Mill Project, pet store owners, rescuers, national animal welfare advocates and others testified about the dangers of pet store puppies. They focused on the puppy mills and the high price consumers pay for trusting their local pet store when they purchase pet store puppies. They also talked about the lives saved by moving more homeless pets to adoption.

The cost of puppy mill dogs at pet stores

“Consumers are negatively impacted by pet store pets because it’s an impulse buy. Too often they are lured in by the adorable puppy in the window,” says Mendoza. “Those pets have been inbred, improperly cared for, have health and behavioral problems. If you look at reviews on Yelp of local pet stores selling puppies, you see the heartbreak from consumers who fell in love with that puppy in the window. They are lied to by the pet stores and pay a huge emotional and financial price when they bring home a sick pet.”

While spearheaded by The Puppy Mill Project – a Chicago-based advocacy group, the ordinance garnered support from many Chicago-area shelters and rescues; national organizations such as Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA; and independent pet stores and animal lovers. Over 13,000 people signed an online petition in support of the ordinance. The ordinance has been in the works for over two years.

The move isn’t without precedent – 45 communities in North America have passed similar bans. Chicago, however, will be the first in the Midwest. That’s key because the bulk of the dogs bred in puppy mills come from the Midwest – it’s considered the pipeline of the industry.

Rhubarb was rescued from a puppy mill in Iowa last April by The Chicago English Bulldog Rescue

Rhubarb was rescued from a puppy mill in Iowa last April by The Chicago English Bulldog Rescue

“When I first started reading about puppy mils several years ago, I couldn’t believe that it was legal and that the industry had been flying under the radar for consumers for so long,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “When we hear about one dog involved in animal cruelty we all get upset, as we should. Can we wrap our heads around 300 or 500 at a time?”

“Consumers have no idea where the dogs in pet stores come from,” adds Meyers. "They are told the dogs came from responsible breeders and they are healthy. However I receive hundreds of calls from consumers that have bought that lie only to wind up with sick puppies or puppies that die."

They are told that they are picked personally by the pet store and they come from good breeders. But, I get so many calls from families that brought home a pet store puppy only to end up with a dead puppy or large veterinary bills due to underlying health issues.”

Pet stores, puppy mills and sick puppies

One of the few people to speak out against the ban was Lane Boron of Pocket Puppies in Lincoln Park. He testified that he only used good breeders and that people can find what they need to know about his business online through USDA reports. He said that he didn’t use breeders with violations. That notion was quickly laid to rest with USDA reports presented by Mendoza.

He also said that if he couldn’t sell the teacup puppies he’s known for (he sells dogs at $800 to $4,000 each), his Chicago store would close and he’d move to the suburbs. He also said he had thousands of satisfied customers and stood by his puppies. However, Paul Feherenbacher then testified about the teacup Yorkie he and his wife purchased from Pocket Puppies four years ago. Moxie died three days after they purchased her.

“I had misgivings about purchasing a dog from a pet store, but we fell in love with Moxie,” says Feherenbacher. “We followed detailed instructions on feeding and care and she wouldn’t eat for two days. She did end up eating on the third night. We found her unresponsive the next morning and she died on the way to the vet. The vet did a necropsy and found that she had a congenital liver defect. Mr. Boron tried to blame us for her death.”

The puppy mill impact

He traced the dog back to a breeder in Missouri that did turn out to be a puppy mill and did eventually get a refund from Pocket Puppies. Just as heartbreaking was testimony from Molly Marino of the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue. She has investigated puppy mills and rescued over 160 English Bulldogs from puppy mills in the past several years.

“We rescued 23 dogs from a puppy mill in Iowa owned by Debra Pratt last year,” says Marino. “The conditions were so horrendous that seasoned rescuers became ill from what they saw. That mill had severe violations for years from USDA inspections and took a long time to close down. Her mill supplied pet stores in Chicago.”

Graphic courtesy of The Chicago English Bulldog Rescue.

Graphic courtesy of The Chicago English Bulldog Rescue.

Marino also testified that a third of the mill dogs they rescue have congenital heart disease. The mother dogs have been overbred and have uterine issues and one recent rescue, Jilly was pregnant when rescued. She most likely would have died during delivery in a mill because of her health issues.

“It’s not just the medical issues families must contend with, it’s the behavioral issues as well,” says Steve Dale, fellow ChicagoNow columnist and pet behaviorist. “Behavior issues are the number one common cause of death. It’s harder to housetrain these dogs because they’ve lived in a small cage and been trained to do it in the kennel.”

Read Steve's testimony here.

Going humane

Along with protecting consumers from purchasing puppy mill dogs, the measure is also aimed at saving more pet’s lives. Stores that currently sell dogs, cats and rabbits may continue to deal in those pets, if they adopt a humane model. That model would feature adoption of pets from animal control or local rescue sources.

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. Las year, Chicago spent $300,000 alone on euthanizing pets. The overall CACC budget is $5 million.

“We do want stores to take the humane approach,” says Elizabeth Oreck, National Manager, Puppy Mill Initiatives at Best Friends Animal Society. Tuscon and Ventura, Califonia are also considering measures this week. “Adoption in pet stores is the prevailing trend in our country. So far, 45 communities have banned the sale of pets in pet stores and it has been a good move. If you look on Petfinder, there are over 13,000 kittens and 20,000 puppies/dogs looking for homes just in the Chicago area.”

“I have been advocating the humane model since before I even opened my store,” says Katie Pottenger of Parker’s Pets in Hyde Park. “We hold adoption events and support rescue groups. I have two rescued puppy mill dogs. My business is thriving because we focus on making pets lives better – healthy food and products for people’s pets. Of the 9,000 stores in the U.S., just a third sell animals.”

In fact, Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville and Wilmette Pet have both moved to humane models in the past several years. Both stores stopped selling dogs and now offer rescue pets for adoption.

Tomorrow, the city council will vote on the matter. So far, 48 of 50 aldermen have signed on to support the measure. If passed, Chicago’s 16 pet stores that deal in puppies, kittens and rabbits will have a year to change their business model or face fines of $100 to $1,000 a day. The measure doesn’t affect small breeders. In fact, one breeder testified today that it’s against their code of ethics to sell to pet stores. She personally vets each person that wants to purchase a pet from her breeding operation.

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    Raining Cats and Dogs

    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats & Dogs.

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