Pro tip for animal lovers: An 8-week-old purebred puppy that retails for $1,000 or more is not a "rescue" dog, no matter what the sign next to its enclosure says.
A rescue dog is in protective custody, sponsored by advocates dedicated to finding it a home so it won't be killed for lack of one. Lost, abandoned or neglected dogs get a second (or third or more) chance at life when a rescue organization takes them in.
In 2014, Chicago's City Council passed an ordinance requiring pet stores that sell dogs to get them from government-run pounds, humane societies and other nonprofit shelters. Its aim was to reduce the number of unwanted dogs that are euthanized each year — and to put the squeeze on puppy mills, where purebred and designer dogs are mass produced for profit, often in inhumane conditions.
But some out-of-state doggie dealers quickly found a way around the ordinance, the Tribune's Stacy St. Clair and Christy Gutowski report. Those commercial dealers simply set up their own nonprofit "rescues" to supply puppies to Chicago pet stores.
Call it puppy laundering. Dogs destined for pet shops in Chicago are routed through the nonprofits; dogs to be sold in shops outside of Chicago are supplied direct from the dealers.
And yes, it's legal — though it soundly defeats the intent of the ordinance. In the last two years, the fake "rescue" groups have supplied more than 1,200 puppies to three pet stores in the city. Almost all of them were purebreds, or designer mixed breeds (think schnoodle or puggle). Almost all of them were puppies. They were born to be sold, not rescued.
Want to know what a typical rescue looks like? Go to petfinder.com. Or visit your local shelter. You'll see a diverse assortment of pooches, most of them mutts whose stated ancestry is understood to be someone's best guess. They are all shapes, sizes, ages and temperaments. And they're almost always spayed or neutered because the world needs fewer puppies, not more.
Chicago was among the first cities in the nation to adopt an anti-puppy-mill ordinance. More than 250 cities have similar laws now; California and Maryland have statewide bans. The measures typically prohibit pet stores from selling dogs (and cats and rabbits) that come from commercial breeding facilities.
The pet store lobby is pushing back against the bans. Its current strategy is to persuade state legislatures to set more lenient sourcing standards statewide, pre-empting the "home rule" powers under which cities have targeted the puppy mills.
Last year, industry representatives tried to push such a bill through the Illinois General Assembly disguised as a mandatory microchipping measure. It would have overturned anti-puppy-mill ordinances in the state's two largest home-rule units — Chicago and Cook County. The industry had already tried, and failed, to kill the ordinances in court.
But resourceful dog dealers had already found the loophole that keeps Chicago pet stores stocked with fake rescues. Chicago aldermen, with help from the Puppy Mill Project and the Humane Society of the United States, are now working on new language to thwart the workaround.
In the meantime, consumers, don't kid yourselves. A dog that can fetch $1,000 or more is a luxury purchase, not a rescue.
We get that some people have their hearts set on a particular breed. They want a dog like the one they grew up with. They want a puppy. They want it now. To those people we say: Buy from a small-scale breeder. Please.
Better still, check out your local animal shelter. Maybe you think it's hard to find the right dog there. The truth more often is that it's hard to find just one.