Lawsuit seeks to prevent Cook County's "puppy mill" ordinance from taking effect next month

By Jonathan Bilyk | Sep 9, 2014


Three suburban pet shops are challenging Cook County's so-called “puppy mill” ordinance claiming its not only unconstitutional, but would effectively put them out of business while doing little to eliminate the “bad actors” in the pet breeding industry.

On Monday, the owners of the pet shops – the Petland stores in Hoffman Estates and Chicago Ridges and Happiness is Pets in Arlington Heights – and a professional association representing hundreds of Missouri pet breeders from whom the shops obtain many of the animals they sell filed suit in Chicago's federal court against the Cook County Board of Commissioners and other county officials.

The pet shops and the Missouri Pet Breeders Association (MPBA) allege in their complaint the county board overstepped its authority in crafting the ordinance, which is set to take effect Oct. 1 and prohibits pet stores from selling certain puppies, kittens and rabbits.

They asked a federal judge to block the ordinance from taking effect and to ultimately void the measure, which they assert violates the constitutional rights of the pet shop owners and licensed breeders, illegally regulates interstate commerce and is too vague to be properly enforced.

The complaint centers on an ordinance adopted unanimously this spring by the Cook County Board.

Supporters of the ordinance said the measure would help eliminate the sale of animals from so-called “puppy mills,” or large-scale pet breeding operations often accused of mistreating animals and selling animals in poor health to unsuspecting pet buyers.

In recent years, a number of governments across the country have moved to take a bite out of such operations, strongly regulating the pet stores that sell the animals or in some cases, attempting to outright ban the sale of puppies and other young animals in retail stores.

In Illinois, for instance, state law now requires pet shops to include a “health warranty” with every animal they sell, making shops liable for veterinary expenses and other costs incurred by pet buyers to treat illnesses and hereditary defects that might manifest after the animal is purchased.

The Cook County ordinance goes farther, however, by restricting pet shops to the sale of animals purchased from Class A federally-licensed breeders with no more than five female breeding animals or from animal shelters and similar not-for-profit animal welfare organizations.

The ordinance allows local home rule cities and villages to craft their own regulations. Happiness is Pets has asked the Village of Arlington Heights to allow it to continue its current practices.

The pet shops and MPBA, however, claim the ordinance would effectively put them out of business and block out-of-state breeders from the Cook County marketplace, while leaving unlicensed in-state breeders free to continue selling animals without regulation.

They note virtually all of their animals are obtained from out-of-state dealers, regulated by the federal U.S. Department of Agriculture as Class B breeders, who purportedly obtain their animals from Class A licensed breeders operating primarily in Missouri and Iowa.

Further, they assert, the county ordinance effectively eliminates almost all breeders by banning the importation and sale of animals from breeders with no more than five “female animals capable of reproduction."

For instance, the suit points to Missouri, the U.S. state with the largest number of pet breeders, and says only 29 of that state’s 634 breeders would be allowed to sell animals to pet buyers in Cook County.

The pet shops claim these provisions would leave the stores with “a sporadic and limited supply of puppies that would not come close to meeting the local demands.”

Further, they assert the county does not have the legal authority to regulate the pet shops’ businesses in such a way, arguing the county’s authority in this matter is superseded by state and federal laws.

In their recently-filed complaint, the pet shops and MPBA assert federal judges have blocked the enforcement of similar ordinances in Phoenix and El Paso, Texas.

The pet shops and MPBA are being represented by attorneys David J. Fish and Monica Fazekas of The Fish Law Firm in Naperville.

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