You can mess with a lot of things in this world…but you don’t mess with people’s pets. That was the message from Chicago City Councilwoman Emma Mitts as Chicago passed a ban on the sale of puppy mill dogs, cats and rabbits in the city’s pet stores. The Companion Animal Protection Ordinance gives the city’s pet stores that sell commercially bred cats, dogs and rabbits one year to move to a humane model.
“We have a lot of important issues going on in the city with our schools and handling issues on the streets, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the repeated abuse of animals,” says Alderman Joe Moreno. “I am a proud cosponsor of this bill and what it does is prevent terrible abuse going on every day in puppy mills. We end up with cute puppies that are sick, have diseases or are in bad condition.”
Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, whose office is responsible for licensing Chicago’s dog population, sponsored the measure as well. The measure had cleared Chicago’s Committee on Licensing and Consumer Protection after a hearing Tuesday. The driving force was the non-profit organization The Puppy Mill Project, an advocacy group that educates consumers about the puppy mlll/pet store connection. The measure passed on a 49 to 1 vote.
“By banning the sales of dogs, cats and rabbits, we can cut the pipeline of animals coming from the horrendous puppy mill industry,” says Mendoza. “It moves us towards a retail pet sales model that focuses on adopting out the many, many homeless animals in need of loving homes in this city.”
“In a city like Chicago, the pet population is out of control. To reduce another living thing to a commodity for profit is a terrible shame,” says Rich Forsythe of Ruff Haus Pets. His family includes a rescued dog and two rescued cats. “When I opened my pet store, I wanted to be part of the community and supporting rescue is a big part of it. I’ve never sold pets and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“Our goal has never been to put pet stores out of business,” says Cari Meyers, founder and president of The Puppy Mill Project. “We would like to work with the stores to help them find an adoption model that fits. This will not only save the lives of thousands of pets facing euthanasia, it will stops stores from supporting the systemic, large-scale cruelty that is the basis of puppy mills.”
Outside Chicago, several pet stores have moved from selling pets from puppy mills to a humane/adoption model. Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville runs its own adoption program and Wilmette Pet fosters pets for adoption through Adopt-A-Pet. Alsip Nursery has recently gone humane at its two locations.
Rescuing homeless pets
“We are so excited that the city council is taking the issues related to this initiative so seriously,” says Cisley McPhail, Director of operations for Alive Rescue. Her group rescues from the city’s open access shelters. “Not only the horrendous conditions and cruelty going on in puppy/kitten mills and the welfare of those animals, but also the contribution these stores make to the overpopulation of unwanted pets in Chicago.”
“By requiring pet stores to switch to a humane/adoption model and encouraging cooperation between storeowners and rescues, we can increase adoption of homeless pets” she adds. ”We can also increase revenue and exposure for these local businesses from free promotion provided by adoption events and support from rescues. It benefits the local community as a whole.”
Battling consumer fraud
“We’ve tried making stores more accountable with the Pet Store Disclosure Act that requires them to post the origin of pets they sell on or near the cage,” says Meyers. “Stores are not complying and they continue to tell consumers that pets are coming from respectable breeders. I hear from consumers every week that are lied to about their pet’s origin. It’s consumer fraud at its worst level.”
For people like Priscilla Zawislak, she’d like to see the ban everywhere. Her family purchased a MinPin they named Pico last summer at a suburban Happiness is Pets store. They were told he came from a good breeder. After their puppy became ill and it was found he had a congenital problem that couldn’t be fixed, she found out he had come from an Amish puppy mill that was notorious for it’s bad treatment of animals. He died right before Christmas.
“If I knew my puppy was going to die, I still would have gotten him. So I could show him real love and make him as comfortable as possible before that time would come,” says Zawislak. “But, to be deceived is a totally different scenario. I didn’t sign up for what I ended up with.”
Chicago’s 16 pet stores that sell dogs, cats and rabbits have until next March to change to a humane model. They will face fines of $100 to a $1,000 per day for not complying. Chicago is the first Midwestern city to adopt a ban and now joins 45 other North American cities that have banned the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores.
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