What is the status of the retail pet sale ordinances being challenged in the courts? There have been a lot of changes and moving parts, so here is a comprehensive update.
The bottom line is that in the world of retail pet sale ordinances, the mill dogs have been winning unanimously in the courts. Every ordinance challenged has been upheld. The cities passing these ordinances are 6 for 6 (or 8 or 8) depending on how you count it.
In the latter part of 2015, we saw several significant legal decisions upholding retail pet sale bans that seek to prevent pet stores from selling dogs from puppy mills. The number of ordinances is growing nearly every week, with over 100 municipalities in the United States and Canada passing retail pet sale ordinances and several others considering them. Retail pet sale ordinances place restrictions on the type of animals that can be sold at pet stores, limiting pet stores to selling dogs and cats (and often rabbits) sourced from shelters and rescues instead of commercial breeders, commonly known as puppy mills.
Pet stores and the puppy mill industry have vigorously fought these ordinances by filing lawsuits across the country.
What’s going on with all of these lawsuits?
Here is a summary with what you need to know about the current status of these ordinances that have been challenged. There have been seven lawsuits brought in federal courts that raise claims under the United States Constitution and one lawsuit brought in state court in Florida. Every single lawsuit challenging a retail pet sale ordinance has been decided in favor of the cities that have passed the ordinances and courts have upheld the ordinances as constitutional.
East Providence, Rhode Island – Ordinance upheld; affirmed on appeal (First Circuit)
Cook County, Illinois – Ordinance upheld; appeal pending (7th Circuit)
Sunrise, Florida – Ordinance upheld; no appeal
Phoenix, Arizona – Ordinance upheld; appeal pending (9th Circuit)
Chicago, Illinois – Ordinance upheld; appeal pending (7th Circuit)
New York City, New York – Ordinance upheld; appeal pending (2nd Circuit)
San Diego, California – Lawsuit dismissed; no decision on merits of ordinance
How does this work? What is the appeals process?
In federal court, a party must file their initial lawsuit in the appropriate district court. Then, the losing parties have the right to appeal the district court’s decision to their local court of appeals. During the appeal, the parties will submit a total of three briefs arguing their cases, and then will likely argue their cases orally before a panel of judges. These appeals often take several months. If the pet stores lose on appeal, it will in all likelihood be the last word on the matter and a definitive ruling. The parties will have the option of petitioning the United States Supreme Court for review, but it is extremely unlikely that the Supreme Court would agree to hear any of these cases as the Supreme Court agrees to hear a very small percentage (less than one percent by many estimates) of the cases petitioned for review.
When will all of this be final?
It is hard to say, but based on the current schedules (which can change), a reasonable estimate is that most of these appeals should have a decision around summer to fall of 2016. It is important to note that the decision in a federal court of appeals is not binding on the cases that are outside of its circuit – there are 13 different federal court of appeals circuits. For example, the federal appeals court in Chicago (7th Circuit) will still make its own determination on the appeals for the Cook County and Chicago ordinances and will not be required to follow the decisions on appeal in Phoenix and New York because they are in a different circuit.
Can these ordinances be enforced?
That depends on the jurisdiction. In Cook County, the ordinance is partially stayed pending the appeal, and is enforceable in all other parts of Cook County other than the cities that have opted out (listed above). In Chicago, the ordinance is now enforceable and city officials are preparing to enforce it. Whether an ordinance is enforceable pending appeal depends on if the losing parties have asked the courts to stay/delay enforcement pending appeal, whether the courts have granted that request, and how/whether the city has decided to enforce its ordinance.
Retail pet sale bans have gained significant momentum in the past few years as a highly effective way to fight the puppy mill industry, with more than 75 jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada passing ordinances prohibiting the retail sale of commercially-bred dogs and cats (and rabbits in some cases). These ordinances typically require pet stores that wish to sell animals to source those animals from rescue organizations or shelters. Not surprisingly, the puppy mill industry is feeling the pressure from these regulations, and has brought challenges in federal court to fight them. To date, five federal lawsuits have been filed in East Providence, Rhode Island; Phoenix, Arizona; Sunrise, Florida; Cook County, Illinois; and Chicago, Illinois.
We are thrilled to see that the courts are confirming what we have believed all along – that pet store ordinances are a lawful use of a city’s power to promote animal welfare and protect its citizens by regulating the sale of puppy mill dogs at pet stores. We are now 4 for 4 with four federal courts that have upheld retail pet sale ordinances against constitutional challenges:
East Providence, Rhode Island
Cook County, Illinois
Three months after the initial bust at Adrian’s Puppy Paradise, a notorious puppy mill in St. Anne, Illinois, in Kankakee County, charges have been filed against owner Louise Gutierrez after 81 dogs were rescued from her home.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney, Jamie Boyd, charged Gutierrez with 71 counts of failure to provide humane treatment and care of animals. This comes shortly after Kankakee County passed an ordinance creating more stringent standards for housing cats and dogs for breeding in response to the situation at Adrian’s Puppy Paradise. The County added 40 new requirements for breeders geared at keeping cats and dogs in more humane conditions. Read about coverage of the ordinance here.
In April, 2015, 81 dogs and two cats were seized from Adrian’s Puppy Paradise after over a year of investigation from The Puppy Mill Project and other animal rescue groups. Animal Rescue Corps, a national animal protection organization experienced with conducting puppy mill rescues, led and coordinated the response effort with assistance from Kankakee County Animal Control and The Puppy Mill Project. The dogs were evaluated, treated, and have been placed with rescue groups for adoption.
Adrian’s Puppy Paradise had been the subject of years of complaints to Kankakee County Animal Control. “We want the community to know we will not tolerate the inhumane care of animals,” said Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jamie Boyd in a press release issued by Kankakee County Animal Control. “This was an effort that was many years in the making and required teamwork from a number of different rescue groups and governmental entities, but we all found a way to get the best result for these dogs and free them from a life of horror – they’ll only know love from now on,” said Janie Jenkins of The Puppy Mill Project. For more coverage, click here.
Veterinarians take an oath to help animals. We trust them to keep our beloved pets healthy, and care for them when they are ill. Surprisingly, many of the major veterinary professional associations, including the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association, have opposed legislative efforts taking place across the country to prohibit the retail sale of dogs and cats from puppy mills in pet stores – laws that would help animals and have a significant impact in fighting the mass cruelty of the puppy mill industry. This has led many to ask the question, do these groups really reflect the views of the veterinary community?
A new group, Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills (“VPAPM”), has been formed by two Chicago veterinarians, Dr. Scott Rovner and Dr. Jane Lohmar, to stand up to puppy mills. Drs. Rovner and Lohmar are leading the charge to take on the problem puppy mills. Along with support from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA), VPAPM’s goal are to educate consumers about where to obtain pets. They also support legislative efforts to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores, transitioning those stores to humane models. The Puppy Mill Project applauds and appreciates Drs. Rovner’s and Lohmar’s courage in taking a stand against puppy mills and speaking up for what is best for animals, setting a wonderful example and embodying the values we believe the veterinary community should uphold.
Learn more about VPAPM on their Facebook page.
More coverage on VPAPM here.
Chicago City Clerk Susana A. Mendoza and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have issued a compelling statement in support of the Chicago Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Ordinance, vowing to fight the lawsuit recently filed in federal court. City Clerk Mendoza, Mayor Emanuel, and 49 members of the Chicago City Council took a stand against puppy mills and animal cruelty when they supported this ordinance. Enforcement of the Ordinance will be delayed while this matter is litigated in federal district court. Read the full press release here.
The city of Chicago plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit at the end of March.