When I compiled my top 20 most viewed blogs last year, the Debra Pratt puppy mill story was high on the list…high and often is a better description. As the story of her mill unfolded, I revisited the topic over and over – from her auction to the apparent closure of her mill to the dogs still left behind.
A few people wrote me to ask why I was giving so much attention to a mill in Iowa. It’s simple – the dogs in Iowa go someplace and often it’s right here in Illinois. Puppy mills exist as a supply and demand business. Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio supply dogs and Illinoisans buy them in pet stores.
Yes, we do have puppy mills in Illinois…I’ve reported on three that have closed. But the vast majority of pet store dogs come in from out of state. So, Iowa focuses on passing laws aimed at mills (see yesterday’s post) and in Illinois the focus has been on pet stores. And, it’s been an amazing year on the pet store front since the Pratt story broke.
Puppy Lemon Law
In Illinois, pet stores had little accountability once they sold a dog or cat to unsuspecting families. They would rave about the great breeders a puppy came from and sell a dog. Only after a puppy became ill, had a congenital problem crop up or died did people research and find out that yes indeed…their dog did come from a puppy mill.
Last summer, Illinois lawmakers passed a puppy lemon law. The law, which went into effect in January, gives consumers more protection than in the past and does hold pet stores somewhat accountable for misrepresenting their product and selling sick pets. But, the real change has come in pet store laws that focus on where stores may source their dogs and cats.
Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Act
In February, Chicago became the first Midwestern city to take aim at pet stores when it passed the Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Act. What this law does is prohibit pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits from commercial breeders better known as puppy mills.
Chicago’s 16 pet stores that sell puppies, kittens and rabbits now have a simple choice. They may stop selling pets altogether or move to a humane model by sourcing their pets from shelters, rescues and animal control. The law goes into effect in March of 2015.
When the city held hearings in February about the ordinance, the Debra Pratt puppy mill was in the spotlight once again. Molly Marino of the Chicago English Bulldog Rescue (CEBR) gave heartbreaking testimony about the dogs her group pulled from the Pratt puppy mill with details about the deplorable conditions.
Anyone that doubted the existence of puppy mills or that they were really “that bad” had a new perspective at the end of the testimony. A month later, she was back to testify in Cook County about the breeding dogs rescued from Iowa. The Cook County ordinance also passed and will go into effect in October.
Proposed ban in Illinois
The dominos are falling into place. There has been discussion in Kane, Winnebago and Boone Counties and Orland Park and other communities about outlawing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. But, all that may be moot. A bill has been introduced in Springfield that could make the ban on the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores a statewide law.
In Chicago, City Clerk Susanna Mendoza and The Puppy Mill Project worked quietly behind the scenes for two years on the city measure prior to its passage. Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey made the move in the month following Chicago’s approval.
The wheels turn differently in Springfield and it will be interesting to see if the ban on puppy mill sales in pet stores will happen in a tough election year. Illinois has some of the toughest animal welfare laws nationally. This would make them the first state to ban the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores.
Why is Illinois able to pass laws more in support of animal welfare while Iowa falls short? A lot has to do with agriculture. Yes, agriculture is big business in Illinois like it is elsewhere in the Midwest. The difference is the voting blocks in the state capitals. Two-thirds of Illinois' votes come from Chicago and the suburbs while the majority of the votes in states like Iowa and Missouri come from less urban areas.
If Illinois' does go statewide, it will be interesting to watch what happens next in Missouri and Iowa – the one and two puppy mill states. With demand down at pet stores, it will make it tougher for them to do business. Milwaukee is also considering a ban and over 40 communities in the United States have now taken aim at pet stores.
Mothers in the Mills
While time ticks away until all these laws go into effect, the breeding continues in puppy mills. Mothers in the mills are crammed into small cages and eat, sleep, relieve themselves, breed and give birth in that tight little space.
On Saturday night, The Puppy Mill Project will shine the spotlight on those dogs at their Annual Mothers in the Mills benefit (see article). This year, the group will celebrate all they’ve done but they won’t forget the dogs still in mills. Janet Davies will be the emcee and the event will be at John Barleycorns in River North starting at 6. Tickets are available online.
Money raised helps with education efforts to teach more people about the pet store puppy mill connection… And, the group will be raising funds for Millie’s Mission – a special fund to help pay defray rescue costs so more groups may take in dogs from puppy mills.
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