DOWNERS GROVE – After months of discussion, the Downers Grove Village Council on March 5 unanimously approved an ordinance that bans area pet stores from selling dogs, cats and rabbits.
As Mayor Martin Tully adjourned the meeting, local animal activists and leaders clapped and cheered, marking the council’s decision a victory.
“It’s more satisfying for all of the advocates who’ve been doing it for years and years,” DuPage County board member Brian Krajewski said. “The wins have been coming in slow, but they keep continuing to get wins.”
Krajewski, a chairman of the board’s animal services committee, said the “it” he refers to is the fight many advocates face to raise awareness about puppy mills and how an ordinance such as the one approved in Downers Grove could protect animals from abuse and neglect.
According to the ordinance, pet stores in Downers Grove are allowed to sell dogs, cats and rabbits if they are obtained by humane societies, which are defined as nonprofits that are “authorized to do business in this state” and aim to prevent “cruelty to animals and promoting humane care and treatment of animals.”
Businesses that do not comply will be penalized. A first offense could result in a minimum $500 fine, while second and subsequent offenses can reach up to $1,000. Separate offenses are to be considered for every dog, cat and rabbit sold in violation, according to the ordinance.
For Jonathan Berning, owner of the only pet store in Downers Grove, the council’s vote ultimately will force him to close shop. Though the ruling offers Berning an amortization period until Oct. 1 to change his business model and abide by the ordinance, he has no plans on staying in Downers Grove after that date has passed.
“I just don’t see any foreseeable way where we can continue business in Downers Grove,” Berning said. “It just won’t work.”
Happiness is Pets is a chain store with locations in Lombard, Naperville, Arlington Heights and Orland Park. This particular ordinance incited a controversial debate among Berning, Downers Grove officials and a group of animal advocates.
“I think it’s unconscionable they would pass an ordinance this drastic without even hearing our side and get all the facts,” Berning said. “It’s just really disheartening.”
Berning shared further that he reached out to council members, requested to sit down with them individually, and even invited them to visit his licensed breeders in Indiana.
“No one would even take a meeting with me,” he said, adding he only met with a couple of village staff, not elected officials. “It was like they just didn’t want to hear the facts. I think that was the most frustrating aspect of this whole ordeal.”
At the meeting, Marc Ayers, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, celebrated alongside Krajewski and other supporters of the ordinance. But Ayers maintained that the fight was not over yet.
The particular ordinance was created in support of Senate Bill 2280, which sought to ban the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from pet stores across DuPage and Will counties. That bill, however, did not pass in the 100th Illinois General Assembly in January.
“The goal is to take this statewide,” Ayers said, adding the village of Vernon Hills passed a similar ordinance last month. “We want to go town by town, city by city, and ultimately pave the way for a statewide bill doing what Downers Grove just did here tonight.”
Looking around the room, Ayers and Krajewski shared that the work done to move this type of ordinance and educate pet owners, the community and officials took a team effort.
“It’s not just one organization pushing those reforms,” Ayers said. “It’s local. It’s getting involved. It’s contacting your legislators, contacting your local officials, state officials, federal officials and getting involved in the process.
“Without them involved, these things don’t happen like they happen tonight. So get involved in the system.”