Suburban pet stores sue Cook County over puppy mill law

A group of suburban pet stores, including a Petland in Hoffman Estates and Happiness is Pets in Arlington Heights, filed a federal lawsuit this week challenging a Cook County ordinance banning the sale of pets from puppy mills starting Oct. 1.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, claims the ordinance is unconstitutional because it burdens interstate commerce, and asks a court to issue a temporary restraining order preventing its enforcement.

At issue is the Cook County Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Ordinance, which requires pet stores to sell dogs, cats and rabbits obtained only from shelters, humane adoption centers and small-scale breeders.

Pet shop owners in the suit say that is not feasible because of the consumer demand for purebred or specialty dogs that often cannot be found at shelters.

The suit also claims the ordinance is too vague, violates the plaintiffs' right to equal protection under the law, and does not clearly define what constitutes a puppy mill.

The stores argue that the ordinance, if allowed, will put pet shops “out of business and cause financial ruin to them and their owners.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Donna Alexander, director of the Cook County Animal & Rabies Control, are named along with the county as defendants.

Other plaintiffs include Petland of Chicago Ridge and the Missouri Pet Breeders Association. According to the suit, the Missouri Pet Breeders Association is the nation's largest professional pet organization, and Missouri is home to more pet breeders than any other state, many of whom sell to Cook County pet stores.

The suit claims that by putting pet stores out of business, people looking for a purebred or specific types of dog will be forced to shop online or from home breeders that are not subject to regulation.

The suit states that the shops in the lawsuit have never received a violation for the care and handling of their dogs, but animal activists say that's not the case for their suppliers.

Dianne Arp, Chicago outreach coordinator for the Companion Animal Protection Society, said stores such as Happiness is Pets in Arlington Heights get dogs from puppy mills with poor conditions and several violations.

As the lawsuit moves through the court system, pet stores are looking for other ways around the new ordinance, as well. Store owners in several communities are going to municipal leaders asking for an exemption from the county ordinance.

On Monday, Arlington Heights granted a temporary reprieve to Happiness is Pets, allowing the store to opt-out of the ordinance for now, but promised to meet again within 60 days to discuss stricter regulations for the conditions of the store's breeders.

The village may take direction from Orland Park, which is in the process of crafting a new ordinance to appease animal-rights activists and owners of a Happiness is Pets store in that suburb.

Naperville, which is not subject to the new Cook County ordinance, is also discussing stricter regulations for the town's pet stores, but has not approved any changes yet.

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