CITY HALL — A proposed ban on pet-store sales intended to cut off puppy mills will go before the full City Council after clearing the License Committee Tuesday.
According to City Clerk Susana Mendoza, who submitted the proposed ordinance as lead sponsor, it would allow sales of cats, dogs and rabbits only from pet shelters and humane societies. Chicagoans would be able to deal directly with a breeder or a veterinarian, but pet stores and anyone else would be prohibited from acting as the go-between for breeders and pet owners.
"Too often there are problems with the adorable puppy in the window of a pet store," Mendoza said, pointing to both physical and behavioral issues stemming from so-called puppy mills that mass produce pets. She said it contributed to the approximately 20,000 animals taken into custody by the city's Animal Control each year, at a cost of as much as $300,000 to euthanize the 40 percent that are never claimed or adopted.
"It will save the city a substantial amount of money," said Ald. James Cappleman (46th).
"This is the right thing to do," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a co-sponsor. He said it was intended to "make sure the supply chain is humane."
Yet Lane Boron, owner of the Pocket Puppies Boutique in Lincoln Park, testified, "It's meant to shut us down." He insisted that, in selling "teacup and toy breeds," he dealt only with "humanely sourced" dogs from reputable breeders. "Go after the real target of this ordinance — unscrupulous breeders,"he added.
"I would never allow Michael Vick into my store," Boron said, referring to the notorious NFL quarterback convicted of felony dog fighting.
"I can't sell shelter dogs," Boron said, adding he wouldn't be able to compete with shelters and humane societies dealing largely with volunteer labor. He claimed "thousands of happy customers" and said he would have to move his business to the suburbs if the new law passed and took effect in a year, as mandated in the ordinance.
"You don't eliminate an industry," Boron said. "You reform it."
Boron's testimony, however, was badly undercut by Mendoza, who cited numerous violations in government reports on the breeders Boron has dealt with, and by Paul Fehrenbacher, a Pocket Puppies client who said his puppy died and was found to have had a congenital liver problem the vet blamed on a pre-existing condition from a puppy mill.
"We don't want to put good businesses out," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd). "Well, if you're a good business, you're not involved with this."
He added that, for those involved with puppy mills, "We should have no qualms about putting them out of business."
Cari Meyers, founder of the Puppy Mill Project, said there were abundant dogs and cats, but also puppies and kittens available for adoption at Chicago shelters and humane societies, and they went unclaimed in part thanks to the regular influx of puppies and kittens at pet stores. "This ordinance has a chance to change that in a very positive way," she said, adding that most American Kennel Club breeders already observe an industrywide policy not to deal with pet stores.
In the end, the committee approved the ordinance by a voice vote without opposition. It now heads for the full City Council Wednesday.
It would impose fines of $100-$1,000 for violations, along with possible forfeiture of the business license.
Asked if the city had more important business to pursue, Mendoza said, "You can chew gum and walk at the same time." She also cited the "overwhelming popular support" for the issue.