Jonathan Bilyk Mar. 1, 2016, 8:01pm

The owners of two Chicago pet stores who recently failed to overturn a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of pets obtained from so-called “puppy mills” have set their sights on a non-profit organization that helped spearhead passage of that ordinance, saying the president of the Chicago-based Puppy Mill Project hurt their businesses by spreading falsehoods and smearing their names by associating them with animal cruelty.

On Feb. 26, Jim Sparks Sr., owner of Park Pet Shop, and Lane Boron, owner of Pocket Puppies Inc., filed a defamation complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against activist Cari Meyers and her organization, The Puppy Mill Project.

The history between Meyers and the pet store owners date back years, to when she launched the Puppy Mill Project to restrict the ability of pet shop owners to sell dogs and other animals obtained from large-scale breeding operations believed to produce animals amid inhumane, as well as often unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. In 2014, Meyers and The Puppy Mill Project scored a big victory, as the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance restricting pet shops to sell only animals obtained from animal shelters, local government pounds, kennels or “animal care facilities,” effectively prohibiting them from selling animals obtained from commercial breeders.

The ordinance allowed breeders located within the city to continue directly selling animals they have bred.

The pet shop owners had challenged the ordinance in court, saying it would severely harm their business, as they wouldn’t be able to obtain enough dogs and other animals to sell. At the time, they said the majority of their animals came from breeding operations located outside Illinois, which they contended were ethical, humane breeders, and not “puppy mills,” as maintained by supporters of the ordinance.

Their challenge to the law failed.

In the months following passage of the ordinance, and while their court challenge was pending in 2015, the pet shop owners said Meyers defamed them and their pet shops in public statements.

Specifically, the complaint noted in April 2015, Meyers was quoted in Tails Pet Magazine saying, “These stores have always put profits over the humane treatment of animals and won’t change to a humane model.”

In February and March 2015, they said Meyers “repeatedly and publicly accused the plaintiffs of engaging in ‘large-scale animal cruelty.’”

And they said in November 2015, “Meyers said in yet another article, which specifically named Park Pet Shop, ‘It’s large scale animal cruelty, and it’s got to stop.’”

“Cari Meyers and The Puppy Mill Project published and continues to publish false, defamatory statements of fact regarding plaintiffs in documents available to the public,” the complaint said. They said the false statements included that the pet shops “sell puppy mill dogs … contribute to the puppy mill industry … abuse the animals they sell … (and) commit animal cruelty.”

Meyers and The Puppy Mill Project made statements that “were known to be false, made maliciously with reckless disregard to their falsity with the motive to damage (the pet shop owners’) professional reputation without just cause or excuse,” the complaint said.

The plaintiffs have demanded damages of more than $50,000 “for personal humiliation, loss of current and future income” and attorney fees and court costs, among other damages.

They are being represented in the action by attorney Sean P. Patrick, of the firm of Rifkind Patrick, of Chicago.

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