Incompetent Elected Officials Of The Month: Chicago City Council

Rugby, my pure Jack Russell Terrier (though "pure" is an oxymoron with Jacks)

Rugby, my pure Jack Russell Terrier (though “pure” is an oxymoron with Jacks)

Laws affect our lives too much to be concocted by dolts. If elected officials are going to restrict our freedom, they have an obligation to do so only with good cause, careful consideration, precision, and after making certain that unintended consequences will be minimal.

On the other hand, elected official could just say “What the hell, let’s see how this turns out,” and be like the Chicago City Council, which passed an ordinance banning the sale of pure breed dogs.

This is as nice an example of good intentions gone stupid as we are ever likely to see. The intent is to cut off the supply of dogs from s0-called puppy mills, which are rightly regarded as too often cruel and irresponsible. However, in pursuit of that elusive goal, the city council didn’t bother to craft a law that addressed the problem effectively, or that even made sense.

Beginning in March of 2015, all stores in the city will have to start getting their pets from government pounds, humane societies or animal rescue groups rather than for-profit operations. The law presumes that all commercial pet operations are like puppy mills, which is demonstrably untrue. There are breeders of various dogs who sell only a few litters a year, and who thoroughly investigate anyone seeking to adopt. The law restricts both the right to sell and right to buy pure breeds, which is an abuse of power and discretion. Certain individuals, surroundings and jobs require specific canine characteristics, and the best way to ensure getting those in a dog is through a pure breed.  (Will Chicago police get all of its dogs from the pound rather than breeders? Fat chance.) The law creates a general bias against pure breeds, which is unwarranted. Because the law applies only to “any person licensed or required to be licensed under this chapter who offers for sale any dog, cat or rabbit in the City,” it cannot stop purchases of pure breeds outside Chicago, or even dogs acquired through an inline purchase and delivered by breeder located outside city limits. Not only is it unfair and misapplied, it won’t even work.

Like most dog-related restrictions inflicted by state and local governments, the law is a product of ignorance. The best way to match a dog to an owner is for the potential owner to observe the puppy’s parents’ characteristics, including temperament.  The authors of this law seem to believe that a dog’s a dog, and pot luck is as good as any other means of adopting one. That can be true, but it is not always the case. Dogs that are unsuited to the experience, needs and skill of owners often end up abandoned, abused or worse: this sop to PETA extremists may compound the very problem it is expected to address.

Concludes Jonathan Turley, the law professor and a Chicago dog owner, suggesting the measure is vulnerable to a legal challenge:

“The law seems arbitrary even under a rational basis test in my view. The preference given adoptions also intrudes on the choices of consumers as to the animal that they want to add to their families. It seems like the animal rights version of a “Big Gulp” ban on the issue of choice. There are breeders who raise animals in humane settings. They tend to be more expensive than mills and these breeders tend to resent the mills as much if not more than others….I do not favor legislating tastes and I have a serious problem with legislation that is based on such sweeping generalities. “

As do I. It is pretty galling for lawmakers to presume that they know best how families should choose a significant and life-altering addition like a dog, while simultaneously showing that their powers of analysis, reason and common sense are beneath those of the average border collie. San Diego, Los Angeles, Austin, Albuquerque and other municipalities have similar laws, liberal bastions all, and similarly determined to restrict citizens’ choices in a very personal matter without accomplishing anything other than kowtowing to an interest group. The oppressive and arrogant “we know best” (when they don’t, and the law itself proves they don’t) mindset is insidious, and should be regarded as such by conservatives, moderates and liberals alike. How a city you tell me that I can’t have a pure-bred Jack Russell terrier if that’s what I want?

Do you remember all the media ridicule, during the Obamacare debate, of opponents of the law who suggested that if the state could force citizens to buy health insurance, it could also make us buy broccoli? These “buy-a-mutt” laws are a strong step in the direction of mandatory broccoli (to eat, presumably, not dear God, as pets),  dictating pet choices while using as justification—the elimination of puppy mills— a goal that the law can’t possibly achieve. This is intolerable, as if, to take a far-fetched example, all the interference with our ability to choose our own health care plans didn’t even achieve the objective of insuring the uninsured.

UPDATE (3/9): Upon review of the text of the law and with some prompting from readers, I now believe this is too harsh. I was, I think, unduly influenced by other commentators, including Prof. Turley, who I suspect read the actual ordinance as carelessly as I did. It is true that the ordinance manifests a bias against pure breeds, and attempts to force prospective pet owners to obtain their dogs from pounds and rescue groups. It does not, however stop breeders from selling directly to individuals. It only stops them from selling to retailers.


Pointer: Advice Goddess Blog

Sources: Res Ipsa Loquitur, Chicago Tribune

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution,  credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

17 thoughts on “Incompetent Elected Officials Of The Month: Chicago City Council

  1. Near as I can figure, this is how government works. The bureaucrats in Washington want to protect me from the bureaucrats in the state capitol and the city hall. The bureaucrats in the state capitol want to protect me from the bureaucrats in Washington and in city hall. The bureaucrats in city hall want to protect me fromthe bureaucrats in Washington and the state capitol. What I want is for all of them to leave me alone.

  2. As a refugee from the city, this is not the goofiest thing that ever came from City Hall. It is just another example of why Chicago and Illinois are great places to be FROM. My only regret is that I didn’t go far enough and leave the state, too.

  3. Personally I’d love to see the concept of pure breds more or less ended, pure breeds are more prone to all kinds of diseases, disorders, and deformations. Not by governmental fiat, though.

    • Not if they are properly bred. Mongrels have diseases too, and disorders—you just don’t know which ones to look out for. In general, big dogs die sooner than little ones, and pure or not.

      • Of course all dogs can have diseases and disorders, but Purebreeding is inbreeding. Proper breeding can limit it, but Hybrid Vigor’s not a figment.

  4. Hmmm. I actually know a bit about this topic — I have family members who are dog breeders. As you describe it, of course the law seems stupid and overreaching. But now consider this — ANY halfway decent breeder only sells dogs by pre-appointment and all potential buyers are carefully screened. They don’t ever sell their dogs to stores. So, truthfully, this law only will affect puppy mills.

    On a personal note, I can’t wait to get a mixed breed mutt at the pound (just waiting for an ancient cat to leave us). But, as Luke said, fiat isn’t the way to go.

    • Huh? The law specifically says that a seller must have received the dog from a pound or rescue organization. It doesn’t permit direct sale of any non-pound puppy. What do appointments have to do with it? I bought our current dog from a breeder who came to the house with a selection of puppies of the breed, on appointment, after an interview. He was a breeder, with show dogs and others. A Virginia law like this one would put him out of business

      • Jack???? I read the law that you linked to. My interpretation is right — the law specifically says:

        WHEREAS, This Ordinance will not affect a consumer’s ability to obtain a dog or cat of
        his or her choice directly from a breeder, a breed-specific rescue organization or a shelter;

        The law ONLY targets pet stores. You bought your dog the right way, but the pet store dogs, cats, and bunnies are a huge drain on public resources and the neglect/abuse factor is huge.

        • Yup, you are right. Thus it stops pet stores and middle-men from buying from breeders. Missed a Whereas there—thanks, and good catch. Not as bad a law as I thought—still over-reaching and arbitrary, though, and ineffective.

          • Pet stores and middlemen buy from puppy mills, not breeders. Check with the people who sold you your dog. Legitimate breeders are passionate about what they do and would never sell their animals to someone who hadn’t been pre-screened by them personally.

            Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like this law. I would have phrased it differently and used a different tone in drafting as it does make one assume that it is “anti-breeder.” I’ve often thought that the State should subsidize spading/neutering for animals that have been adopted from shelters or rescue groups. That might be a better incentive for people to avoid the pet stores.

            We donate time and money to rescue groups — and even in our well-to-do metropolitan area, I can tell you that they are overwhelmed and have to euthanize tens of thousands of pets each year. We turned to animals because I couldn’t stomach working with underprivileged children anymore. Now I don’t think I can stomach working with the animal rescue groups (I have for years now but I think I have reached my limit). Soon, I am going to become one of those people who writes checks at blind auctions while sipping wine but never does any real volunteering because my sanity can’t keep taking these hits. (Oh, and of course, the blind auction will have hired Jay Leno to emcee so most of my donation will have been wasted anyway.)

  5. No more “How much is that doggie in the window?” at least in Chicago. By the way, there is a great parody of the song on If the Chicago City Counsel is that concerned about puppy mills, they should support organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and it’s activities to publicize and help pass legislation to regulate the breeding of pure breed dogs.

  6. Nein! Zis law ist awful! Ve must habst pure dogs! Ja! Our dogs must be racially bred pure! Ve must not habst sub-dogs runnink around! Preferably ze purest bred German Shepherds! Vat should be verboten are ze mongrel dogs!

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