Elk Grove Village couple Cindy and Kent Weik say breeding Shih Tzus is more of a hobby than a business.
It's about providing dog lovers healthy, purebred puppies and finding a loving home for their "children," they say.
Village officials see it differently, and are taking the Weiks to court claiming they are violating village ordinance by running a dog-breeding operation out of their home.
The couple has 12 dogs, including eight female and two male Shih Tzus that they have been breeding since 2009, and four puppies. It was never the couple's intent initially to breed them, said Cindy Weik.
"We had such a bad experience (with breeders)," she said about getting a puppy with health issues from a breeder.
To be sure that would not happen again, the Weiks decided to start breeding their own.
"I loved the experience," she said. "I loved having the puppies around and we just never spayed or neutered the dogs."
Weik said she called the village to ask whether there was any ordinance against breeding dogs.
"I never thought to (ask) can I sell them from my home?" she added.
Though breeding animals is allowed in Elk Grove Village so long as the animal doesn't produce more than two litters in a year, when the Weiks decided to sell their puppies, it landed them in trouble with the village.
Selling the puppies from home, according to the village, violates ordinances prohibiting any kind of business, commercial or industrial use or home occupation in a residential area. The village's complaint originally was filed in housing court for nuisance and zoning violations, but the couple is now fighting in Cook County circuit court.
Last week, a judge denied the Weiks' motion for a summary judgment without having to go to trial. A status hearing on the civil case is set for Sept. 4 at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows.
If found in violation of the village ordinance, the Weiks could have to pay a minimum of $25 and a maximum of $500 for each day a violation occurred dating back to when the original complaint was filed, Village Attorney George Knickerbocker said.
The trouble started more than a year ago when a neighbor complained of excessive barking from the Weiks' backyard in the early hours of the morning and a lot of people coming and going from the house.
The village followed with an investigation by its environmental health division. At the time, the Weiks had seven female and two male Shih Tzus, along with two other dogs, Knickerbocker said.
"All of the dogs were let out at 4:30 a.m. to do their business, and they barked," Knickerbocker said. "Every morning for 18 months they woke up their neighbor. For two and a half hours every morning she was awakened."
Knickerbocker said the neighbor had asked the Weiks on three separate occasions to do something about their dogs' barking before filing a complaint with the village in February 2012. The couple was given a warning in April 2012 to abate the nuisance, he added.
The Weiks deny their dogs were barking at that hour and say they addressed the neighbor's concerns, even erecting a 6-foot-high wooden fence between their properties upon the village's urging.
The bigger problem now is their home breeding business, Knickerbocker said.
"You are not entitled to have a home occupation in a residential zoned district," he said. "They had litters and litters of puppies, selling them anywhere for about $1,000 per puppy. Their dogs would have litters once or twice a year, all seven of them. They indicated to one of our inspectors at one point they made in one year alone $30,000. People were coming over on Saturdays and Sundays to look at the litters."
Knickerbocker said the couple also has a website for their business, Chi-town Shih Tzu LLC, and openly advertises boarding for dogs they previously sold.
"We are not naive to the fact that (other) people are using their homes for their occupation," Knickerbocker said. "Unless someone complains, we're not going to know. We're not going to go into each house and run these inspections."
The Weiks say they stopped selling the puppies out of their home after the village filed its complaint. Since then, they have been selling the puppies off-site and on the Internet for "less than market value."
"I meet people at the pet store, groomers, vets," Cindy Weik said. "Nobody is allowed to come here to see them. They have to wait until they are old enough (6 weeks to 8 weeks) to be seen outside the house."
Kent Weik said the couple spends more money on breeding and raising the dogs than they make selling the puppies, which go for between $600 and $1,000.
"If I want to put a pen to it with everything it takes to raise these guys to eight weeks, the vet, the food ... we're not doing this to make money," he said. "If I were profiting from this, I would have a boat, a lot of things. This is not a viable business."
"We live for the dogs," he added. "They are our children. They are our family."
Weik said he's not sure if they will continue breeding dogs, but added, "I'm not going to have an incident dictate my life."
Elk Grove Village doesn't have an ordinance limiting the number of dogs or pets in a home. But that too could change after the Weiks' case came to light.
"It was looked at by the board of health several years ago," Knickerbocker said. "If you have a large number of dogs but meticulously took care of them and they didn't become nuisances to the neighbors, then the village didn't want to be Big Brother. We have other miscellaneous ordinances that we can regulate the actual use in a home."
The village's judiciary, planning and zoning committee met last month on the issue again and remains undecided.