Pet stores in Chicago will reportedly challenge a law in Chicago, set to “take full force and effect on March 5, 2015” as announced by the city clerk last year.  The law will restrict the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits as follows:

 “A retailer may offer for sale only those dogs, cats or rabbits that the retailer has obtained from:

(1) an animal control center, animal care facility, kennel, pound or training facility operated by any subdivision of local, state or federal government; or

(2) a humane society or rescue organization.”


The city, quoting the Humane Society of the United States, claims this ordinance will prevent customers from unknowingly supporting the alleged “10,000 puppy mills” estimated to exist in the United States.


Ignoring momentarily the false allegations that pet stores in Chicago purchase puppies from substandard breeders, it is time to start unraveling these unsubstantiated statistics which cities and states throughout the country are erroneously relying upon to support similarly irrational laws.


Where do these numbers come from?  Certainly not from data collected and distributed by the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), the agency charged with licensing commercial dog breeders pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act, first enacted in 1966.

There is no substantiated data from USDA that there are 10,000 puppy mills in the United States.

“Puppy mills” are defined by USDA’s Inspector General as “large-scale dog breeders that failed to provide humane treatment for the animals under their care.” See Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care Program Inspections of Problematic Dealers, Audit Report, 33002-4-SF, May 2010.

There were only 1,764 licensed commercial dog breeders on December 30, 2014, according to USDA records,  USDA estimates that there may be an additional 2,600 to 4,640 breeders with more than four breeding females who sell through the internet (and will now have to be licensed).  Notably, USDA warned that these estimates may not be accurate.

Importantly, USDA noted that puppies from substandard breeders often end up at shelters: “neglected or abused pet animal confiscated from substandard breeding operations are often sent to shelters to provide for their care.”  78 FR 57227-01, 2013 WL 520612 (F.R.)

Therefore, by mandating that retail pet stores in Chicago may only acquire puppies from shelters or rescues, the city is supporting the very industry it intended to eliminate since those puppies are more likely to come from substandard breeders.

At the same time, the fully USDA compliant, licensed breeders, who provide for the health and well-being of their dogs, are banned from selling to customers in Chicago through licensed pet stores, who also provide for the care of the pets they sell.

Chicago officials ignored the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association who, opposed to the ordinance, explained in relevant part:

  • “By banning the sales of purebred pets in the pet shops, the public will be denied consumer protection in IL Public Act 098-0509;
  • A pet sold in a pet store has the greatest chance of receiving the highest quality veterinary care should it become ill within the first year of life as a result of IL Public Act 098-0509; and
  • The elimination of consumer choice through banning puppy and kitten sales in reputable pet stores can result in consumers and pets suffering from a lack of regulation when seeking alternative, unregulated sources outside City of Chicago limits and/or outside the State of Illinois.”

The Chicago pet stores join a growing number of similarly affected small businesses who have challenged similar laws in federal courts throughout the country.