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Reeder: Lawmakers want to throw the puppy out with its bath water

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 9:25 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 9:30 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – I love animals.

But that shouldn’t be surprising.

I’m the son and husband of veterinarians.

My house is a menagerie with four dogs, two cats, two rabbits and a pair of parakeets.

Some of the creatures have special needs. For example, there is the newborn kitten born without eyes that we took in, raised on a bottle and now has been a member of our family for eight years.

Or there is the rabbit that a client of my wife begged her to adopt after she developed allergies to her pet.

And let’s not forget Lester the St. Bernard mix, which devoured my Blackberry last month.

So the Reeder home is all about rescuing animals.

While I love animals, I have an even greater devotion to freedom. That’s why some legislation introduced recently in the Illinois Legislature gives me pause.

It seems, state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, and state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, have introduced legislation prohibiting pet stores from selling dogs that haven’t been rescued from the pound or an animal rescue group.

So much for trusting consumers to make wise decisions for themselves.

Under this bill, consumers could buy dogs from breeders. But pet stores would be prohibited from purchasing from breeders.

The bill’s proponents say it will cut down on “puppy mills.”

Here is how the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defines “puppy mill:” “A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs.”

But the Illinois legislation essentially lumps all breeders into that category.

There are bad dog breeders out there just like there are unethical accountants, sloppy electricians and dishonest politicians. But most breeders, like most people in any given profession, do a good job.

In fact, most of the dog breeders I’ve met are nice people who love animals and are committed to finding them good homes.

The federal government licenses commercial dog breeders to ensure they are raising their animals in a safe, clean environment.

But apparently that’s not good enough for some state lawmakers.

They want to throw the puppy out with its bath water.

The bill, which Gov. Pat Quinn endorses, would put some pet stores out of business.

It would also make it tougher for dog breeders, who are mostly mom-and-pop business owners. In fact, most of the breeders I know are doing it part-time to supplement their income.

I bought Hershey, my Labrador retriever puppy, from an older woman battling muscular sclerosis and living on Social Security.

Despite her physical ailments, she made sure the dogs were clean and well-cared for.

In the years after our purchase, she periodically would inquire how her “baby” was getting along.

She certainly didn’t get rich raising dogs.

But it helped her make ends meet.

And she found loving homes for hundreds of puppies.

But the bill before the Legislature would prohibit pet stores from buying from businesses such hers.

It’s all part of that smug, government-knows-best mindset that pervades Springfield.

The “thinking” goes something like this:

More dogs need to be adopted from animal shelters, so we’ll make it impossible for pet stores to sell anything but “rescue” dogs.

Never mind that it hurts small businesses owners.

Never mind that it reduces choices for potential pet owners.

And never mind that many of the health problems present at poorly run “puppy mills” also plague dog pounds and other shelters.

An animal in a pound cage can be exposed to a lot of infectious diseases.

That’s yet another reason pet stores should be free to choose where their animals come from.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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