Jerry, an American bulldog mix, arrived at Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society on Wednesday about the same time aldermen adopted a measure that will tilt the options for pet buyers in the city toward homeless animals like him.
Beginning next March, Chicago pet stores won't be able to sell dogs, cats or rabbits obtained from large-scale breeding operations that critics call "puppy mills." All such animals, mostly dogs, sold in the city will have to come from government pounds, rescue operations or humane societies.
National and local animal welfare advocates supported the legislation, which the City Council approved 49-1. The measure reflects a growing national concern over how animals are bred and treated and follows similar actions in other cities.
"This ordinance prevents, hopefully … these terrible practices of having these animals being abused day after day in small cages," said Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st.
The ordinance does not figure to entirely change the way people buy pets in Chicago, because it doesn't affect online sales or purchases from small-scale breeders who don't sell puppies in stores. Veterinarians also will still be able to place animals from their clinics.
But for 16 Chicago pet stores, including the one James J. Sparks co-owns in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far Southwest Side, the new rules will have a significant impact.
Sparks wasn't happy with the City Council action, which he said fails to distinguish unsavory pet breeding operations from reputable breeders and pet stores. Sparks said he gets animals for the Park Pet Shop, which he runs with his parents, from upstanding breeders that treat their animals well.
"Am I for shutting down the wrong part of the industry? Absolutely, 100 percent," he said. "We do our best. We do a lot of hand-washing. We do a lot of crossing T's and dotting I's."
Susan Nawrocki, owner of Hug-A-Pup on the Northwest Side, said she plans to move her business to the suburbs, citing general mistreatment from the city.
"I don't need Chicago. Chicago needs us," Nawrocki said, adding that her sister opened the business almost 40 years ago. "Businesses that come to Chicago are not treated the way they should be treated."
Critics say pet stores, which generally sell only puppies and kittens, and the breeders that supply them add needlessly to the pet population while countless animals are awaiting adoption in shelters. At shelters, dogs are more likely to be older, mixed-breed animals.
A Humane Society of the United States official said in a statement that the new city ordinance represents "a step forward for the humane economy" that "will help end the euthanasia of thousands of dogs and cats every year in Chicago."
The new restrictions are similar to measures on the books in cities that include Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix.
Dr. Robyn Barbiers, a veterinarian and president of the Anti-Cruelty Society, which operates a large Near North Side shelter, said Wednesday's decision was "a good thing" but cautioned that "it doesn't address all the issues."
Barbiers, whose organization already partners with area PetSmart locations for in-store adoptions, said she would be open to working with some of the stores affected by the new rules. She said a broader education effort is needed to explain to prospective pet owners why a 2-year-old mixed-breed from the shelter might be a better choice than a custom-bred puppy.
The measure adopted Wednesday was pushed by City Clerk Susana Mendoza, whose office sells dog licenses.
"It's one step toward solving an important issue that faces our society," she said. "It cuts off a pipeline of the animals coming from the horrendous puppy mill industry and instead moves us toward a retail pet sales model that focuses on adopting out the many, many homeless animals in need of loving homes in this city."
Violators of the new ordinance, which goes into effect next March, could be fined up to $1,000 a day or, in the case of repeat offenses, charged with a misdemeanor.
Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, cast the lone dissenting vote. Reilly said he and his wife have bought puppies from one of the businesses that will be affected.
"I support the intent of the ordinance, but not the approach," Reilly said. "The reality is that these bans don't end the practice or the product. They just push the practice to the suburbs."
Sparks, who said his store probably makes more than half its money on puppy sales, said denying consumers interested in a specific type of dog that option makes little sense.
"The pet stores in Chicago are regulated," Sparks said. "When you take away the regulated sources, is there any regulation to be had anywhere else? The answer to that is no. That would be terribly unfortunate to the industry."Copyright © 2015, RedEye