What suburban residents are doing to shut 'puppy mills' down

  • Dr. Barbara Hanek, administrator veterinarian for DuPage County Animal Service, says residents need to work together to get humane pet store ordinances approved in their towns.

      Dr. Barbara Hanek, administrator veterinarian for DuPage County Animal Service, says residents need to work together to get humane pet store ordinances approved in their towns. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted7/10/2019 5:30 AM

Hope and Grace are golden retrievers who spent most their lives in cages with just one purpose -- to produce puppies for pet stores.

Grace was discarded by her commercial breeder after she couldn't naturally deliver her last litter. The owner asked a veterinarian to remove the puppies and dispose of Grace. The vet called a rescue group instead.

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Hope was put up for auction when she could no longer produce as many puppies. A rescue group bought her and three other dogs at auction.

Today, Hope and Grace are being cared for by Elizabeth Sheaffer, a Naperville resident who has fostered more than two dozen dogs and who has joined with other animal activists trying to persuade municipalities, counties and eventually the state to ban the sale of pets from commercial breeders.

"I hope we are able to change the world for moms like Hope and Grace," Sheaffer said.

The activists have had some recent successes.

Last month, Buffalo Grove village board members unanimously agreed to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores.

Other communities have passed similar ordinances, including Warrenville, Downers Grove and Vernon Hills.

Marc Ayers, the Illinois state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said eight municipalities and two counties, including Cook, have adopted humane pet store ordinances since 2012.

"This is why they (pet store lobbyists) are scared," Ayers said. "Local ordinances scare them to death."

DuPage County was unsuccessful in getting state law changed so it could adopt a ban, but it recently hosted a "puppy mill workshop" to educate residents on how to push for local laws in their towns.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Roughly 175 people registered for the event.

Grace, top, and Hope, bottom, spent most of the lives in commercial breeding facilities. Their current owner, Elizabeth Sheaffer, said they are still dealing with emotional trauma years later.
Grace, top, and Hope, bottom, spent most of the lives in commercial breeding facilities. Their current owner, Elizabeth Sheaffer, said they are still dealing with emotional trauma years later. - Courtesy of Elizabeth Sheaffer

Sheaffer told the group that Grace has been living with her for nearly three years and Hope for about 2½. Both dogs are still dealing with emotional trauma.

Grace has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety. Hope's fear and anxiety is even worse.

"She still cannot stand the sound of any motorized noises," Sheaffer said. "She becomes undone when she hears vacuums, hair dryers, lawns mowers, leaf blowers."

When she first got Hope, Sheaffer said she promised to fight for her and other dogs in puppy mills -- and she's been true to her word.

Others are joining the fight, including DuPage County Board member Brian Krajewski, who said DuPage will continue lobbying Illinois lawmakers to either give it the power to adopt a ban or enact a statewide ban. In the meantime, the Downers Grove Republican said efforts must begin at the local level.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"As more and more communities ban it, the state legislature is going to pick it up," said Krajewski, chairman of DuPage's animal services committee.

During the recent workshop, participants learned about puppy mills, kitten mills, conditions in some pet stores, the mill-to-pet-store supply chain, the impact of commercial breeding on rabbits, humane pet store models, and other related topics.

Mindi Callison said puppy mills are commercial dog breeding facilities that produce hundreds of puppies without taking proper care of the parent dogs.

"These parent dogs are living without vet care," said Callison, founder of Bailing Out Benji, an Iowa-based nonprofit.

"They are living without healthy food, without clean water, and their whole existence is just to breed puppies. Those breeder dogs will never find homes unless people like us rescue them."

Unfortunately, she said, there's a very high demand for animals from puppy mills in our "I want it now" society.

"You can walk into a pet store and get a puppy today," Callison said.

"You can buy a puppy from a website and they'll ship it to you tomorrow. Puppy mills are everywhere. And it's up to us as advocates to stop that."

Dr. Barbara Hanek, administrator veterinarian for DuPage County Animal Services, said U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for commercial breeders outline minimum standards of care.

But she said, "you can meet only the bare minimum requirements" and still be considered a USDA-licensed breeder.

Hanek said humane pet store ordinances benefit responsible breeders and maintain purebred characteristics. "We need to mobilize and get together in strength and make some change," she said.

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