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Puppy-Mill Ban Gains Support in City Council

By Ted Cox | February 15, 2014 11:27am
 Supporters of the Puppy Mill Project protest outside Collar & Leash last October.
Supporters of the Puppy Mill Project protest outside Collar & Leash last October.
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Puppy Mill Project

CITY HALL — An ordinance that would ban pet stores from selling dogs that come from puppy mills is gaining traction in the City Council — and in the general public.

The ordinance is sponsored by City Clerk Susanna Mendoza, in a rare foray into the legislative process, and has the backing of 47 of the 50 aldermen. And she has also put a public petition online that has gathered more than 9,000 signatures.

The proposed ordinance would restrict the sale of dogs and cats in the city to those that caome from "shelters and other humane adoption centers."

"We pay dearly for failing to curb the sale of puppy-mill animals," Mendoza said in explaining her support for the ordinance. "This legislation is going to save the lives of dogs and cats and spare pet owners the heartache and and cost of bringing a sick animal into their home."

She added it would ultimately also save the city money in tending to fewer strays and abandoned pets.

According to Mendoza, more than 45 cities in the United States and Canada have already adopted similar bans. Mendoza cited figures that an estimated 99 percent of dogs sold in retail stores are from puppy mills and prone to hidden ailments and temperament problems from mistreatment.

“This is a consumer issue because consumers, when you go into a pet store, you are generally lied to about the origin of these puppies,” said Cari Meyers, founder of the Lincoln Park-based Puppy Mill Project, which worked with Mendoza to craft the law. “These little puppies and kittens are coming from the most horrific conditions imaginable.

Yet, while pet-store owners are understandably reluctant to comment on the defensive, critics suggest the ordinance is misguided.

"I think they're going after the wrong people," said Sonja Raymond, owner of the Collar & Leash Pet Hotel. "I think they should be going after the suppliers."

Collar & Leash used to sell dogs in Old Town, but Raymond sought to semi-retire and now only does boarding and grooming at 3541 W. Columbus Ave. The store closed in October. She said retailers are already regulated, and some pet stores are extremely diligent about where they get their dogs and puppies. 

Raymond pointed to how Mendoza also sponsored the statewide Pet Store Disclosure Act calling on stores to reveal the source and condition of their animals when she was in the General Assembly. Raymond said she complied with that law when she was selling pets. If there's a problem with a puppy mill, she said, that's where to pursue it.

Raymond added that animal shelters and adoption centers are just as prone to dealing in problem animals. Limiting the market for puppies and kittens and instead emphasizing the sale of dogs and cats from shelters, she said, would inevitably drive the market for pets underground.

"I can go on the Internet and order puppies off the Internet, and no one is going to stop me," Raymond said. "I don't think this is going to help anything. When people can't go to the pet shop and buy a puppy at the pet shop, they're gonna go online, and that's gonna make matters worse."

But for now the ordinance continues to gather support ahead of a meeting of the License Committee later this month, when both sides figure to have their say.