Suburban animal welfare groups say they're "ready for the fight" if Chicago pet store owners think they're going to move puppy mill selling operations to the suburbs.
The Chicago City Council passed a law Wednesday prohibiting pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits from for-profit breeders, sometimes known as puppy mills. Instead, they'll be required to get their animals from rescue groups or shelters.
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It remains legal, however, to sell mill-bred animals in most suburban pet stores. Many pet stores refuse to do it. But in those that do, animal rights advocates fear Chicago's ban will create an influx of puppy mill dogs.
Groups like Chicago-based nonprofit Puppy Mill Project hope to persuade the suburbs to follow Chicago's lead, helping end cruelty they say occurs in puppy mills.
"We're ready for the fight in the suburbs, there's no doubt," said Cari Meyers, Puppy Mill Project's founder and president. "We're not going to make it easy for them to just start up somewhere else. We'll fight every inch of the way."
The problem is selling puppy mill dogs is profitable, said Greg Gordon, owner of Dog Patch Pet & Feed in Naperville, a business that once sold dogs from a for-profit breeder. Now, the company offers only adoption services for rescued dogs, as well as pet supplies.
Gordon said if he were to get a puppy from a rescue group, it would cost him $250-$350 in medical costs -- sometimes more -- which he pays directly to the Naperville Animal Hospital or The Fix Foundation. Stores that buy dogs from puppy mills pay $90-$150 and pay the breeder. Gordon said many large chains will sell puppy mill dogs for 10 times what they paid for them.
Meanwhile, the puppy mill operators breed the same female dog over and over again, every time she's in heat.
"(Puppy mill dogs) are already being peddled out here," Gordon said. "I just decided, 'I'm not going to do this anymore.'"
Gordon called Chicago's puppy mill law "a nod to the problem" but considers it unenforceable. A better solution, he said, would have been to spay and neuter every animal in the city, or beef up federal and local inspections of dog breeders.
Large chain stores are often accused of selling puppy mill dogs.
However, Petland Inc. defended its business. President and CEO Joe Watson said "puppy mill" is defined 100 different ways and is meant to refer to a breeder who disregards dogs' health and welfare.
"Petland does not support these types of breeders," he said.
Instead, Watson said, the company purchases puppies from three sources: USDA-licensed breeders with clean inspection reports, hobby breeders with three or fewer breeding females, and local shelter and rescue operations.
"Pet stores in Chicago are regulated at the federal and state level. Illinois has improved their standards for pet stores ... and (they) are more regulated than nearly any other industry," he said. "Yet, at as few as 2 percent of sales, pet shop owners are seen as soft targets by the radical animal rights activists, and our elected officials have been fooled by their propaganda."
Happiness is Pets, another chain with several suburban locations, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Local animal rescuers like Linda Wyka of Elk Grove Village say they have seen the dark side of the business.
Wyka's nonprofit rescue group, Almost Home Foundation, just rescued roughly 35 dogs from an alleged puppy mill in Lisle, which closed earlier this month.
One dog they rescued, a Yorkie, just spun in circles -- the result of being confined in a small cage for so long each day, Wyka said. Other dogs had yellowed feet, from standing in their own waste. Most of the dogs were petrified of human contact and needed medical and dental care.
Almost Home Foundation will host a fundraiser April 5 at the Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows to help pay for the rescued animals' care.
"I don't know if things are going to change that much (because of Chicago's law)," Wyka said. "It's just so sad."