The Puppy Mill Project has planned a "peaceful protest" from noon-2 p.m. Saturday at the store at 10429 S. Kedzie Ave. They contend Sparks continues to sell dogs from puppy mills despite a city ordinance banning such sales.
Sparks said he, too, is strongly opposed to puppy mills, and his family business that dates to 1958 doesn't rely on such suppliers. He even has a petition signed by hundreds of customers near the register of his store that begins by saying, "Say No To Puppy Mills."
Sparks owns the store with his father, Jim Sparks Sr., and said his business is in full compliance with the Chicago mandate that only pets from "shelters and other humane adoption centers," such as rescue operations, can be sold within city limits.
Investigators with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection visited the store July 24 and found Park Pet Shop in compliance, according to Lilia Chacon, a spokeswoman for the agency.
But Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project, isn't buying it and said she has plenty of questions for Sparks should he decide to join her protest.
She said the dogs for sale at Park Pet Shop certainly don't fall into categories typically associated with rescue dogs. First, she said the father-and-son business is selling puppies, which are difficult to come by in a shelter.
She said such dogs rarely find their way into shelters — particularly as puppies. And the business is also selling these dogs for often up to $2,000 each. Park Pet Shop even offers financing.
"Everybody knows that those aren't rescue dogs, and he is breaking the law," said Meyers, who declined to specify how the business owners are skirting the ordinance.
By law, Sparks Jr. said the animals in his store are not verified breeds. But admittedly, his Pomeranian looks a lot like a Pomeranian and his beagle looks like a beagle, so he's able to charge a premium.
He said the dogs in the store come via "advocates in the industry."
More specifically, city inspectors found, the puppies were bought from Dog Mother Rescue, a nonprofit rescue organization licensed in Missouri.
In an email to supporters, Meyer's group claims the supplier is really, "a puppy mill in Missouri fronting as a rescue."
Sparks Jr. vehemently denied such claims Tuesday.
"The activists think we are in trouble because we are desperate to stay open," Sparks Jr. said. "What we are really desperate for is the truth."
He maintains his store isn't selling dogs from puppy mills now and wasn't doing so before the ban. Meyers argued Park Pet Shop did have such dogs for sale. In fact, she maintains that all pet shops throughout the country rely on puppy mills.
The Puppy Mill Project has planned a "peaceful protest" from noon-2 p.m. Saturday at 10429 S. Kedzie Ave. They contend owners Jim Sparks Jr and Sr. continues to sell dogs from puppy mills despite a city ordinance banning such sales. [DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig]
Meyers said no responsible breeder would supply a pet store, adding trustworthy suppliers insist on selling direct to customers and meeting those who will be taking home their pups.
She also said responsible purebred breeders would never mismatch their animals to create trendy mix-breeds with names such as "yorkipoo," "labradoodle," "cheagle," and others. She said only puppy mills produce such animals.
Sparks disagreed, adding continued pressure on his business might force Park Pet Shop to move to the suburbs. The pet store owner also said without his regulated services, customers interested in purebed and designer dogs will be forced to search online.
Internet scams for eager pet owners are commonplace and regulation of such businesses is nonexistent, he said.
Meyers didn't seem to care. She said Internet scams already exist and restricting Park Pet Shop as well as Pocket Puppies in Lincoln Park to the sale of rescue animals won't make the problem any worse.
Sparks admitted the dogs in his store don't look like what pet-seekers will commonly find in the city's Animal Care and Control adoption center. Though he added that "some of the best dogs in the world are from rescue."
He said the dogs he's selling are also rescue dogs and that his business exists in a niche that targets buyers with specific breeds in mind. Meanwhile, Meyers maintains Sparks has simply found a creative way to continue sell dogs from puppy mills.
"Part of me wants to say, 'It's OK to have a different opinion,' and put that out on the marquee," Sparks said.