A well-intentioned, but really dumb, bill pending before the General Assembly would allow pet shops to sell dogs and cats only if they are obtained from a pound or rescue group.
The idea behind House Bill 1711 is to put so-called “puppy mills” out of business.
That’s a noble goal.
Unfortunately, the measure won’t help a single dog or cat and the only establishments it will cause to fold are reputable pet stores.
Under this bill, consumers could buy dogs from breeders. But pet stores would be prohibited from purchasing from them.
“This bill is being driven by emotion, not facts. If this bill passes it will put us out of business,” said Ana Soskic, president of Furry Babies, which has pet stores in Rockford, Aurora and Lombard.
Soskic noted that folks who shop at her stores usually are looking for a specific dog breed.
“They want to buy purebred dogs and if our stores are getting dogs from animal shelters, we aren’t going to be able to provide them with what they want,” she said.
Soskic said she carefully vets the breeders who supply to her stores to ensure that all of the puppies and kittens have been raised in humane conditions. She added she would wholeheartedly support legislation to more stringently regulate breeding facilities.
“I got into this business because I love dogs,” she said. “By selling dogs in our stores, we are helping customers so they won’t have to drive 700 or 800 miles to buy directly from breeders. This bill does nothing to address the conditions at places where animals are born.”
The measure has been approved by the House and is pending in the Senate.
It has drawn opposition from the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.
“We support families being able to obtain pets from a shelter, animal control, pet stores or private breeders,” said Dr. Colleen Lewis, president of the state veterinary association.
“We support consumer choice and this bill limits their choices,” she added. “If a family wants to buy a specific breed of dog or cat, they should be able to buy what is best for their family.”
Here is how the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defines “puppy mill:” “A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs.”
But this legislation essentially lumps most breeders into that category.
There are bad dog breeders out there just like there are unethical physicians, sloppy plumbers and dishonest accountants. But most breeders, like most people in any given profession, do a good job.
In fact, most of the dog breeders I’ve met are nice people who love animals and are committed to finding them good homes.
I too love animals. And I can’t bear the thought of any dog or cat living in less than humane circumstances. But that shouldn’t be surprising. I’m the son and husband of veterinarians.
Over the years, we have opened our home to many animals.
Some of these creatures have special needs. For example, there was the kitten born without eyes that we took in and cared for a dozen years. There was the elderly (and grumpy) mongrel we adopted when its owner entered hospice care.
And, yes, over the years we also have bought some purebreds from reputable breeders.
Dog breeders are mostly mom-and-pop business owners. In fact, most of those I know are doing it part-time to supplement their income.
I bought Hershey, a Labrador retriever puppy, from an older woman in Rio, Illinois, who was battling multiple sclerosis and living on Social Security.
Despite her physical ailments, she made sure the dogs were clean and well-cared for.
In the years after our purchase, she periodically would inquire how her “baby” was getting along.
She certainly didn’t get rich raising dogs. But it helped her make ends meet. And she found loving homes for hundreds of puppies. But the bill before the General Assembly would prohibit pet stores from buying from businesses such as hers.
A better approach for Illinois would be to follow Ohio’s example and pass more stringent health regulations for animal breeders because the current legislation is unfair to reputable breeders, well-run pet stores and, most importantly, to consumers who want choices.