Lawsuit challenges city's "puppy mill" ordinance as litigation over similar county ordinance remains pending

Jonathan Bilyk Feb. 23, 2015, 4:13pm

Two Chicago pet shops and a Missouri-based animal- breeder have challenged a city of Chicago ordinance prohibiting the sale of pets from so-called “puppy mills,” saying the ordinance that is set to take effect in two weeks is unconstitutionally vague and would effectively put them out of business.

Pet stores Park Pet Shop Inc. and Pocket Puppies Boutique Inc., along with breeder Cedar Woods Farms, sued the city earlier this month, asking Chicago's federal court to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the ban from taking effect to allow them to stay in business while the court considers constitutional questions they and others raised concerning ordinances in Cook County and other parts of the country.

“Without question, this ordinance will put the pet shops-- which have collectively been in business more than 65 years-- out of business and cause financial ruin to them and their owners,” the Feb. 16 suit asserts.

The complaint targets an ordinance approved by the Chicago City Council about a year ago, designed to shut down sellers of dogs and other pets who acquire the animals from so-called “puppy mills” or large-scale breeding operations believed to produce animals amid inhumane, as well as often unhealthy and unsanitary conditions.

The ordinance would require retailers to only sell dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from animal shelters, local government pounds, kennels or “animal care facilities,” effectively prohibiting them from selling animals obtained from commercial breeders.

Breeders located within the city, however, would be allowed to continue selling animals directly under the ordinance.

The pet shops argue the ordinance would not allow them to obtain enough of the pure-bred animals they need to meet the demand of their customers, as the overwhelming majority of the animals they now sell come from out-of-state breeding operations, such as that run by fellow plaintiff, Cedar Woods Farm in Lebanon, Mo.

According to the pet shops -- Pocket Puppies, located in the 2400 block of North Clark Street in Lincoln Park, and Park Pet Shop, in the 10000 block of South Kedzie in Mt. Greenwood on the city’s southwest side-- and Cedar Woods, as many as 98 percent of USDA licensed breeders are located outside in Illinois, most of which are in Missouri.

The pet shops claim they purchase their animals from responsible, ethical commercial breeders, not “puppy mills," and contend that if the ordinance takes effect as written, it will put them out of business, leaving Chicago residents seeking pure-bred animals with nowhere to go except unethical breeders.

The suit is similar to litigation brought against Cook County last year by suburban pet shops and a Missouri animal breeders association over an ordinance similarly seeking to prohibit the sale of animals obtained from “puppy mills.”

In December, Cook County sought to dismiss the suit. However, a federal judge has slapped an injunction on the county, preventing the ordinance from taking effect while the litigation is pending over constitutional questions raised by pet store owners and breeders.

Much like the plaintiffs in the Cook County litigation, the pet shops and Cedar Woods allege the wording of the city's "puppy mill" ordinance is too vague and essentially leaves city officials free to pick and choose who to prosecute.

They also allege the ordinance violates the constitution’s Commerce Clause and Contracts Clause and illegally deals locally with an issue more properly addressed on a state or national level.

And, the plaintiffs add, the ordinance ultimately does little to actually address the problems its supporters claim it attacks.

The pet shops and Cedar Woods are represented in the action by attorney Sean P. Patrick of Gurney Patrick LLP in Chicago.

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