Illinois Chole’s Bill: All Bark and No Bite

Posted on 02/16/2009


http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-0213edit2feb13,0,3407809.story

chicagotribune.com

All bark and no bite

February 13, 2009

Everyone’s a sucker for a warm puppy, especially in trying times. With the Blagojevich mess behind them, a fiscal disaster bearing down and a looming battle over ethics reform, it’s no wonder Illinois lawmakers are lining up to sponsor Chloe’s Bill, named after a wide-eyed, wet-nosed cocker spaniel rescued from a Downstate puppy mill.

The only surviving puppy in her litter, Chloe was seized from a facility where dozens of dogs were cramped in wire cages stacked three deep, infested with fleas and soiled with their own urine and feces. Dogs kept in such conditions lead miserable lives, cranking out litter after litter after litter so their owners can cash in on the demand for purebred pups. The puppies, typically brokered to pet stores or sold over the Internet, often come with defects or diseases that appear only after their new owners have fallen in love with them.

Chloe’s Bill is meant to put the puppy factories out of business. The bill includes explicit standards for cleanliness, housing and care, limits the size of breeding operations, provides for annual inspections and requires breeders to keep and share scrupulous records about their animals’ medical history and lineage.

When chief sponsor Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago) trotted out the poster puppy at a news conference in Lincoln Park last month, he knew he could count on Chloe to fetch votes.

So what’s all the yipping about? “Dog hobbyists”—hunters, mostly—and mom-and-pop breeders who raise and sell purebreds in their homes say the bill could shut them down too. Anyone who owns three or more female dogs for the purpose of selling their puppies would fall under the law, and no one could keep more than 20 dogs that are not spayed or neutered.

The hobbyists say the bill’s wording would prohibit them from kenneling a pack of hounds together; the home breeders say it would forbid them from raising a litter of schnauzers in the kitchen. Both groups howl about onerous record-keeping, expensive licensing requirements and intrusive provisions such as mandatory fingerprinting and unannounced inspections.

They have an ally in the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, which calls the bill misguided. By making it harder for Illinois residents to buy a dog from a reputable breeder, the bill could encourage commercial operations that care more about profit than puppies. Most puppy mills already operate outside the law and will continue to do so, but your local poodle supplier might well decide it’s not worth the bother.

The result: more puppy mills and a spike in sales from out of state. Some critics say the bill might as well be called the Puppy Mill Promotion Act.

Illinois already has two laws meant to guard against puppy abuse—the Animal Welfare Act, which covers breeders, kennels and shelters; and the Humane Care for Animals Act, directed mostly at household pets. If those laws aren’t getting the job done, it’s largely because Illinois doesn’t have the resources to enforce them vigorously. Can we really afford to spend those dollars hassling the hobby breeders?

Several states have targeted the problem by enacting puppy lemon laws, which hold the seller responsible if an animal turns out to be sick or has a congenital problem. Such laws require the seller to replace the dog or refund the purchase price; the seller is usually on the hook for vet bills needed to diagnose the defect too. If the owner doesn’t want to give up the puppy, the seller might have to pay for its veterinary care too. The downside of lemon laws is that they protect consumers more than dogs, at least initially. Over the long term, though, they could discourage pet stores from dealing with puppy mills.

Lawmakers could also make adjustments to Chloe’s Bill to ensure that it sinks its teeth into the mega-breeders instead of nipping at the ankles of the little ones. The last thing we need is another feel-good law that’s all bark and no bite.


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