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Cook County passes suburban puppy mill ban

Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County commissioners today voted to ban the suburban sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from large-scale professional breeders, adding to a growing nationwide movement to cut off demand from animals bred in so-called puppy mills.

The ban would go into effect in October, seven months before a similar ordinance takes effect in Chicago, after the County Board voted 15-0 to approve the ban. Approval came after Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, made some minor changes to make the ban more palatable to critics who questioned whether it went to far.

Some commissioners noted the ordinance was just proposed by Fritchey earlier this month and sought to send the proposal to committee for further discussion and possible further changes. Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman, R-Orland Park, contending the resulting confusion was turning the debate “into a bigger mess than my dog left me this morning before I came here.”

But Gorman and four others who voted to delay ended up voting for the measure, with Fritchey saying he was open to later amendments if need be. The changes already made by Fritchey would allow pet stores to sell animals from federally licensed breeders with no more than five animals capable of reproduction. Fritchey also put off the effective date for three months.

As in Chicago, pet stores would be allowed to sell or adopt out pets from government shelters, rescue agencies and humane societies. Stores violating the ordinance, which would be enforced in part by the county sheriff, would face fines of up to $500 per banned sale.

The ban is similar to one approved 49-1 by the Chicago City Council last month and would affect at least 13 pet stores in suburban Cook, beyond the 16 in the city, sponsors said. Suburbs with home rule powers – typically those with more than 25,000 residents – could opt out of the ban if they chose to do so.

Not affected by the ordinance is the sale of animals via the Internet, which some critics of the proposal said is the source of more pets than stores.

As was the case in the city, the primary advocate for the ban was Puppy Mill Project President Cari Meyers, who has made it her mission to decry so-called puppy mills that breed large numbers of dogs for profit. Dogs are kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions, and their progeny often suffer physical and psychological defects, she contends.

One supporter of the ban was Commissioner Deborah Sims, D-Chicago, who said she bought a dog from a pet store that ended up having to be treated for a tumor and allergies and may have been of a different breed than she was told. “I learned a lot, why my baby — my puppy — has the allergies she has,” Sims said.

“Nobody wants to put these (stores) out of business,” she said. “But if these businesses are doing the right thing, that shouldn’t even be their concern.”

But some pet store owners and the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association opposed passage of the ordinance, with pet shop owners contending that some large-scale breeders operate humanely and the vet’s group contending the ordinance is well meaning but misguided. Pet store owners also said it could put them out of business.

“The Chicago Veterinary Medical Association strongly believes that ongoing education of the public is a much more effective method to increase pet owner awareness and bring about the desired positive change necessary to address valid concerns regarding unethical, unscrupulous breeders who are the ultimate problem,” the CVMA said in a statement. “Such breeders are likely to find a way to circumvent the letter of the law and still maintain their pet sales via other avenues.”

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