DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove officials were met with an unlikely guest at the Feb. 12 Village Council meeting.
As resident Bryan Mundt stepped up to the podium and shared his support for an ordinance that would ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits, his wife Lorae stood beside him, cradling their dog, Batty Boop, in her arms.
"You wouldn't know here, but she is actually very stressed," Bryan said of Batty Boop, who was swaddled in a blanket.
Batty Boop is a product of puppy mills. She was rescued at 8 years old, and it's been three years since Bryan and Lorae fostered and adopted her from the West Suburban Humane Society (WHSH). Now 11, Batty Boop still can't seem to shake off some of the trauma she endured in her past life, her owners said.
"To this day, she still spins [in circles] when she's stressed out," Bryan said about a common trait of puppy mill dogs who have been subjected to confinement.
He went on to spotlight more of Batty Boop's struggles post-rescue, including how "she's still terrified of strangers" and has house-training issues because of her caged upbringing. Her cropped ears and docked tail are permanent scars, marks of mistreatment, he said.
For the Mundts – along with many residents and community leaders who spoke at the meeting – the proposed ordinance was personal, and the possibility of putting this ruling into effect would ultimately provide a way to protect animals from cruelty.
"This is an extremely emotionally-charged issue," said Commissioner Nicole Walus, adding that she and fellow commissioners have received countless emails from both residents and non-residents who felt passionately for and against the ordinance.
"If we are here to represent the residents, which I believe we are," she continued, "then in my opinion, it is our duty to pass this ordinance."
Many of the commissioners echoed Walus, showing favor for the proposed ordinance. Commissioners are expected to vote on the ordinance at the March 5 Village Council meeting.
As it stands, the proposed ordinance would only allow for the sale of dogs, cats or rabbits in Downers Grove from an animal care facility, animal rescue organization or humane society.
The ordinance is a part of a larger movement that aligns with Senate Bill 2280, which seeks to end the retail sale of dogs, cats or rabbits in DuPage and Will counties.
If approved, the ordinance is a step toward prevention. It aims to protect dogs, cats and rabbits from abuse and neglect – ultimately being raised in poor, unsanitary conditions that could lead to a lifetime of health and behavioral issues, according to the ordinance.
Beyond that, the ordinance creates more awareness for animal welfare and spotlights the shortcomings of federal, state and county regulations when it comes to pet stores.
If commissioners decide to move forward with the ordinance, Jonathan Berning, an owner of the only pet store in Downers Grove, would be forced to close his longtime family business. Berning, owner of Happiness is Pets on Ogden Avenue, maintained his puppies come from licensed breeders.
"You're going to be told that all USDA breeders are puppy mills by individuals who have never stepped foot inside USDA licensed kennels before," Berning told commissioners. "You're also being told that all USDA licensed breeders simply only adhere to basic minimum standard of care by individuals who have zero proof to substantiate this claim."
Aside from Downers Grove, Happiness is Pets also has locations in Arlington Heights, Orland Park, Naperville and Lombard.
"Again, I invite you to come see our breeders for ourselves," Berning said. "If they were puppy mills like my opponents say, I would be trying to hide them instead of inviting you to see them."
The ordinance currently includes an amortization period, which means Berning's store could remain open and operate under his business model until his lease expires on Dec. 31, 2022. However, commissioners discussed whether that time frame should be reduced to as little as 60 days.
"The shorter, the better," Commissioner Marge Earl said, pointing out another concern that calls for clear, complete definitions of what humane societies are to guarantee the animals' safety.
Commissioner Bob Barnett sought input from his colleagues as well as the public to determine what the proposed ordinance would look like, especially for Berning.
"One thing that I have been questioning about is what happens to the animals that are there now?" Barnett asked. "There's a building full of animals."
Moreover, Barnett wanted to know if the overall end goal is "to diminish a market for the potential sale of puppy mill-bred dogs," then there should be proper protocol, a well thought-out plan that can be followed by the village of Downers Grove.
Mayor Martin Tully agreed with Barnett and turned to the amortization period as a part of that effort.
"It's designed to try to achieve some kind of balance, some kind of order to address the transition," Tully said. "But, let's remember that this law, if this ordinance passes, there will be no more pet sale stores in the village other than those that comply with this ordinance."
"So, that's it," Tully added. "And the only one that exists won't be around for very long at least in its current manifestation."