Officials have put on hold any action on the sale of pets in Naperville pet stores, saying they want to learn more about the issue before implementing a ban that would allow the shops only to offer dogs and cats sourced from shelters and rescue groups.
After staff members advised against enacting the restrictions, citing a likelihood of court challenges prevailing, City Council members Tuesday night agreed to study the matter in greater depth and hold off on taking action until at least their Oct. 7 meeting. But first, they heard two more hours’ worth of sometimes-emotional public comment on the matter. Most of the 21 speakers urged passage of a ban on shops selling any dogs supplied by breeders, whom they condemn as profit-motivated “puppy mill” operators who turn a blind eye to the health and well-being of the animals they raise.
Naperville resident Eva Vanis related having trouble getting breeder information at local pet stores, and said she has visited puppy mills and found conditions there appalling.
“Naperville is just too good a city to have anything to do with this type of group,” she said.
The owners of Naperville’s two pet stores, however, implored the officials to continue enabling consumers to have the purebred purchase option. Jonathan Berning, whose family owns the Happiness Is Pets chain, said most of the breeders they use routinely conduct the genetic testing necessary to cut the risk of sick puppies being put up for sale.
“Yet in the eyes of many activists they’re still a puppy mill,” Berning said.
Dog shop doom?
Adam Stachowiak, co-owner of the Naperville Petland store, also questioned whether all breeders deserve the label. He said a ban would put him out of business and again stated that his store works only with breeders licensed and monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The term ‘puppy mill’ is used to pull on the heartstrings of the public and persuade consumers and politicians to make emotional decisions, instead of decisions based on fact,” he said.
He alluded to the experience of Greg Gordon, owner of Dog Patch Feed & Supply in Naperville, who early in 2012 stopped working with breeders and switched to offering only rescue dogs, reading from a statement from Gordon that noted he makes no money on the 60 to 80 adoptions his store arranges each month.
“The facts are that there’s plenty of stores that can do this without skipping a beat. What they’re not looking at is a store like (Naperville’s pet shops), that does most of its business from puppy sales, can’t do that,” Gordon said Wednesday, likening a ban to abruptly ordering a car dealer to sell only washers and dryers. “I don’t know where you get off as a legislator requiring that.”
While stressing that he’s no fan of conventional pet shops, Gordon noted that puppy mills are not yet illegal.
“You can’t stop them from doing that,” he said, placing long odds on a ban passing legal muster. “If somebody’s going to challenge it, they’re going to win.”
Instead, he suggests taking such measures as requiring a one-time license — since many Naperville families neglect to pay the yearly fee now required — and funneling the income into animal control or local nonprofits that promote pet welfare, and requiring all puppies to be spayed or neutered before they leave the store.
“That, to me, addresses a big chunk of this,” Gordon said, noting that forced sterilization would prevent any genetic health issues from perpetuating. “That’s some things they could enact that actually makes it look like the city gives a (darn).”
Targeting big dogs
The meeting drew comments from several high-profile activists, including Naperville resident Dianne Arp, Chicago outreach coordinator for the Companion Animal Protection Society, which sends investigators into puppy mills, and Chicago resident Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project — which Gordon credits with nudging him into the all-rescue model.
Arp urged the officials to enact a ban and allow the activists to help with enforcement, which council members cited as a major concern.
“You need to partner with people who know how to navigate the system, who can educate you, who can guide you,” Arp said.
Officials said a ban could require substantial staff hours and perhaps call for new hires, but weren’t in favor of giving the assignment to volunteers.
The 5-year-old Puppy Mill Project works to eradicate the sale of dogs through retail outlets. Referring to large-scale breeders as “millers,” Meyers described the business as “an industry based on broad-scale animal cruelty,” and offered to help officials craft local legislation outlawing pet shop-breeder transactions.
When Councilman Doug Krause asked Meyers whether responsible breeders exist, she repeated the movement’s assertion that they do, but they never sell dogs to pet stores. And when City Council member Bob Fieseler suggested there might be middle ground, such as setting a limit on the number of breeding females a supplier can have at work, Meyers acknowledged its possibility, saying smaller operators’ practices are simpler to validate.
“That’s almost a non-problem,” she said. “It’s the big guys.”
According to Stachowiak, however, it’s not a matter of gestational head counts.
“We feel that this is irrelevant in regards to the quality of care involved with our breeders,” he said in an email. “What really matters is how well the animals at our breeder’s facilities are cared for. We would like to see the city make a decision based on the quality of our breeders rather than the number of dogs they have.”
Gail Diedrichsen, one of the founders of the Naperville Area Humane Society, said shelters have always worked hard to ensure that animals are well-suited to the households that adopt them, a concern the activists say pet shop owners do not always share.
“They’re really match.com for dog lovers,” Diedrichsen said of shelters.
She and Anna Payton, the NAHS’ recently hired executive director, voiced concerns that the shelter’s implicit competition with pet stores hinders the chances of strays and rescued dogs finding good new homes.
“Our goal was to be shut down,” said Diedrichsen, who still volunteers at the Diehl Road facility. “There was nothing that we wanted to see more than to be put out of business.”Tags: City Council, pets, puppy mill