Chicago Ordinance Limiting the Sale of Cruelly Raised Animals Upheld by the Seventh Circuit

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Chicago Ordinance Limiting the Sale of Cruelly Raised Animals Upheld by the Seventh Circuit

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Win Continues String of Legal Victories Nationwide Over Challenges to Local Restrictions on the Sale of Certain Animals

Illinois State Bar Association Animal Law Newsletter

Molly L. Wiltshire

In recent years, scores of state and local governments across the U.S. have enacted legislation to halt sales in their jurisdictions of puppies and kittens that come from “puppy mills.”[1] The term “puppy mill” is defined as a business involved in high volume breeding operations that provide little or extremely poor basic care for their animals (which may include puppies, kittens, or rabbits within the term),[2] sell animals with a myriad of health and behavioral issues to an unsuspecting public, and place expensive burdens on local consumers and taxpayer- funded animal shelters. Puppy mill breeders profit while animals and their owners suffer.

Before it enacted the ordinance at issue here, the City of Chicago spent significant time researching the puppy mill issue. It found that consumers may not know, or have a way to know, that their new designer-breed puppy has come from a puppy mill;[3] and that they are repeatedly saddled with expensive veterinary bills and the emotional trauma of dealing with a sick or dying pet.[4] In addition, local animal shelters are affected because they receive puppy mill dogs and cats that consumers drop off when they no longer want or cannot afford the mounting medical costs for their new pets (for whom they have usually paid exorbitant prices). Those receiving shelters have limited capacity, and so they may be forced to resort to euthanizing more animals, which in turn makes the shelters more expensive to operate.[5] And while many healthy, socialized and reliable animals are available at low cost from local shelters, consumers are often fooled into thinking that a purebred dog is somehow a better value, when in fact the opposite is often true.

All of these problems and considerations led to the City of Chicago adopting Municipal Code §4-384-015 to regulate “Retail Sales of Dogs, Cats, and Rabbits” in Chicago (the “Ordinance”).[6] Under the Ordinance, retail pet stores in Chicago are only permitted to sell dogs and cats that come from “an animal control center, animal care facility, kennel, pound or training facility operated by any subdivision of local, state or federal government; or [ ] a humane society or rescue organization.”[7] In addition, any dog or cat offered for sale in Chicago must have basic background information disclosed and displayed on the animal’s cage.[8]

The Ordinance was set to take effect in March, 2015 but was quickly challenged in federal court by two pet stores selling specialty breed puppies in Chicago. The specialty breed pet stores alleged that the Ordinance violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution[9] by unduly burdening interstate commerce, violated the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution[10] by impairing existing contractual relationships, violated the Equal Protection and Takings Clauses of the U.S. Constitution[11] (and Illinois’s equal protection[12] and “home rule” laws[13]), was preempted by the federal Animal Welfare Act, and was void for vagueness.[14] The U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, Hon. Jorge L. Alonzo, dismissed all of the pet stores’ claims and upheld Chicago’s Ordinance.[15] But the plaintiffs continued their fight and appealed to the Seventh Circuit.[16]

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Chicago’s The Puppy Mill Project (TPMP), both represented by Schiff Hardin LLP, were granted amicus curiae status at the outset of the case and filed briefs in both the district court and the Seventh Circuit addressing the legality and constitutionality of the Ordinance. On September 21, 2017, the appellate panel affirmed the district court’s order upholding the Ordinance.[17] The Seventh Circuit concluded that the Ordinance did not have a discriminatory effect on interstate commerce and did not exceed Chicago’s home-rule authority under the Illinois constitution. “Chicago has not attempted to regulate beyond its borders. The ordinance doesn’t ban animals from out-of-state breeders, either expressly or in practical effect. It affects large breeders — wherever they’re located — in exactly the same way. Both can sell directly to Chicago consumers,” but city-licensed pet retailers cannot be a conduit through which those puppy mill breeders sell to consumers in Chicago.[18]

While that appeal proceeded, the district court had declined to freeze enforcement of the Ordinance. The Ordinance therefore has been enforceable against all Chicago pet retailers since December 21, 2015. Consumers in Chicago should be aware of the puppy mill ban and expect that all retailers in Chicago are displaying the required pet disclosure information and selling only rescue dogs, cats, and rabbits, not young animals from breeders.

The Seventh Circuit’s affirmance continues the streak of victories for retail sales bans that seek to protect the health and safety of the animals who enter our lives, and the public at large. The Seventh Circuit decision also marks a victory for the important principle that local governments have the right to enact animal protective legislation focusing on issues identified within the specific municipality.


  1. Over 254 cities have enacted legislation to address the tragic consequences of puppy mill production. See https://bestfriends.org/resources/states-local-pet-sale-bans. California is the first state to have passed such a ban. See Cal. A.B. 485 (Oct. 13, 2017).
  2. “The documented abuses of puppy and kitten mills include over-breeding; inbreeding; minimal to non-existent veterinary care; lack of adequate food, water and shelter; lack of socialization; lack of adequate space; and the euthanization of unwanted animals.” Journal of the Proceedings of the Chicago City Council (March 5, 2014).
  3. “When consumers buy puppies, kittens, and rabbits from a pet store, there is a strong likelihood that consumers are unknowingly supporting the puppy mill, kitten mill, or rabbit mill industry.” Id.
  4. “[H]ealth and behavioral issues, which may not present themselves until years after the purchase of the animals, can impose exorbitant financial and emotional costs on consumers.” Id.
  5. In 2012, Chicago Animal Care and Control euthanized 7,652 dogs and cats, costing $199,124 –$251,384. Id. By encouraging animal adoptions from shelters, the shelters can reduce their operating expenses by reducing the number of annual euthanasia procedures.
  6. The Ordinance regulates dogs, cats, and rabbits. The text of the Ordinance is available at http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Illinois/chicago_il/municipalcodeofchicago?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:chicago_il. Cook County has a similar law as well, which was upheld by the U.S. District Court (N.D. Ill.) on May 21, 2015, which decision is currently on appeal to the Seventh Circuit. Missouri Pet Breeders Assoc. v. Cook Co., et al., Case No. 15-2895 (7th Cir.).
  7. Ordinance, §4-384-015(b).
  8. Illinois Animal Welfare Act, “Disclosures for Dogs and Cats Being Sold by Pet Shops.” 225 ILCS 605/3.15 (2017).
  9. U.S. Const. art. 1, § 8, cl. 3.
  10. U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1.
  11. U.S. Const. Amend. XIV and V, respectively.
  12. Ill. Const. art. I, § 2.
  13. Ill. Const. art. 7 § 6.
  14. 7 U.S.C. § 2131, et seq.
  15. Park Pet Shop, Inc. v. City of Chicago, No. 15-C-1450, 2015 WL 6756288 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 5, 2015).
  16. Not all of the pet stores’ claims were appealed to the Seventh Circuit.
  17. Park Pet Shop, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 872 F.3d 495, 2017 WL 4173707 (7th Cir. Sept. 21, 2017).
  18. Id., Mem. Op. at 14.