DuPage County fighting efforts to repeal state's 'puppy mill' ban

After years of lobbying, animal welfare advocates celebrated a hard-fought victory last summer when state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation banning pet stores from selling dogs from commercial breeders.

Activists say the new law is designed to cut off a "puppy mill pipeline" that supplies Illinois pet stores with dogs raised by large-scale, out-of-state breeders known for inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Starting Feb. 23, store owners are limited to selling dogs and cats sourced from animal shelters or animal control facilities.

But before the rules take effect, animal welfare groups and Springfield lobbyists representing DuPage County are pushing back against what they say is a last-ditch attempt by pet store chains to dismantle the law.

State Rep. Will Davis, a Democrat from Homewood, has introduced a measure that would allow pet shop operators to sell dogs from a "verified breeder" in-state or out-of-state.

"No reputable breeder would ever sell their animals to a store," DuPage County Board member Brian Krajewski said.

Advocates say efforts to repeal or water down the law are unlikely to succeed. Nearly two dozen Illinois cities, counties and towns have enacted what are called humane pet store ordinances.

Two years ago, the Naperville City Council prohibited the sale of commercially bred dogs in pet stores. Then last August, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation adopting a statewide ban and giving pet store owners 180 days to comply. The law imposes fines starting at $500 for the first violation.

Davis was one of the sponsors in the Illinois House. He did not respond to a request for comment through his district office Wednesday.

"DuPage County has been one of our biggest allies from the start in getting this new law across the finish line," said Marc Ayers, the Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Earlier this week, county board members approved an annual legislative agenda opposing repeal measures, among other priorities in Springfield. Lobbyists are now pushing that agenda on behalf of the county.

"I don't believe that this new bill will garner really enough support to pass the House or even the Senate. I think the lawmakers are seeing through it," Ayers said.

The proposal would put in place breeding standards that are effectively meaningless, Ayers said. The Illinois Department of Agriculture, he noted, has no jurisdiction to enforce standards for out-of-state breeders.

"It's not an outright reversal of the law per se in terms of how it's written. But it absolutely reverses the law," Ayers said.

As written, the proposal says pet shop operators would have to obtain a signed affidavit from breeders stating compliance with standards set by Illinois regulators.

"It's a lot of smoke and mirrors built into the bill," Ayers said. "It's not enforceable. It's impossible to enforce when we're talking about hundreds of breeders that sell to Illinois pet stores."

Stores also would have to obtain either copies of inspection reports over a two-year period or copies of results from a third-party audit of breeding facilities within the past 16 months.

"That's way too long," Ayers said. "Conditions change in puppy mills in a day, not to mention in a year and a half."

Pet stores often criticize sales regulations, claiming that they'll be put out of business and that people looking for a purebred or specific types of dogs will be forced to shop online from unlicensed sellers. The Humane Society refutes those claims.

"It's a model that works," Ayers said of having retailers source dogs from shelters and rescue groups. "It's a model that saves lives. A number of your big chains already do this."

Krajewski, chairman of DuPage's animal services committee, said the law is intended to protect not only animals but also consumers.

"When you can sell a puppy for $3,000, well, of course, many of them don't care that these breeders are just constantly breeding dogs, litter after litter after litter," Krajewski said.

Some pets originally sourced from commercial breeding facilities were surrendered to DuPage animal services last year because of illness or significant behavioral problems, county officials say.

"They've seen firsthand what these pet stores are doing," Ayers said. " ... They know better than anyone the impact that these laws have."

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