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Words of advice for 'puppy mill' debaters



We at The Regional News are encouraged by the Orland Park Village Board’s search for a “sensible center” on the issue of animal welfare—specifically, using its home-rule powers to opt out of the new Cook County Companion Animal & Consumer Protection law, and then craft its own ordinance that blocks pets shops from selling dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from sloppy, inhumane breeders and yet gives pet shops the room they need to operate responsibly and profitably.

Can Orland Park be both pro-dog and pro-business? We think the answer is yes and look forward to seeing an ordinance that can serve as a model for municipalities across the nation. If anyone can do it, Orland Park can.

While we await that draft legislation, we have a few words of advice to offer to some of the activists who are fighting against any compromise, who are pressuring legislators, both in Orland Park and at the county level, to do nothing and let the new county ordinance take effect on Oct. 1.

Let us preface our advice by commending the activists at the Puppy Mill Project and other organizations. Your commitment to animal welfare is second to none, and your passion is admirable, especially in a world of apathy and defeatism.

That said, here are a few friendly pieces of advice.

     Respect those with whom you disagree. Your opponents are not your enemies. To demonize anyone who disagrees with you (like legislators, pet shop owners, veterinarians, and so forth), as you frequently have, hurts your cause. That sort of behavior makes you look less like thinking adults in the court of public opinion and more like angry children on a playground.

     A village board meeting is not a picket line. Refrain from wearing T-shirts with slogans that slander your opponents. Do not blurt out your opinion or speak out of order when things aren’t going your way.

     When trying to persuade others, stick to the facts. Encouraging a parade of emotion-based testimony from disgruntled dog owners making claims that can’t be substantiated at the moment does not help the cause.

     Keep it “big picture.” Implying that Orland Park should not go its own way on animal welfare because somebody allegedly received poor service from Happiness Is Pets is like saying that you received poor service at Jewel, and therefore, all grocery stores should be shut down. It’s nonsensical. Making a single pet store the focus of your ire makes you look vindictive when you’re not.

     Urging your supporters to contact legislators is definitely a good thing. Encouraging them to contact them multiple times is harassment.

     Don’t engage in religious bigotry. An inhumane breeder is an inhumane breeder, regardless of the person’s religious beliefs. Your repeated calling out of the Amish is distasteful and even cowardly when you consider the Amish are pacifists and won't fight back. If the inhumane breeders were Catholics, Jews, Methodists or Muslims, would you call them out? We think the answer is obvious.

     Tell the truth. When you get called out for allowing your Facebook page, for which you have responsibility, to be a bulletin board for hatred, own your mistake and correct it. You compound the problem when you post things like, “We will go on record and let everyone know that in no way, shape or form do we condone that kind of behavior on our page nor do we encourage it,” while at that same time there are libelous and even hateful comments—some by your own organization—still posted on your page.

     We also have a bit of advice for leaders of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Society and the American Veterinary Medical Society, who recently stood with our local county commissioners to support a proposed amendment to the new Cook County Animal Companion & Consumer Protection Ordinance.

When you are given an opportunity to speak out against animal cruelty and neglect, seize it and make the most of it. The May 28 press conference you took part in was a golden opportunity to thunder against the chronic underfunding of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and demand that the Illinois Congressional delegation take the lead on making APHIS into something other than the paper tiger it often is—so that the feds will finally have adequate staffing resources to enforce the law and properly inspect commercial breeders.

But rather than seize the opportunity, you shrank from it and focused instead on the responsibilities of dog owners, with borderline “blame the consumer” wording that we found disappointing and even disturbing.

As Mahatma Gandhi said decades ago, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” We agree with that and urge everyone to take a step back, think about how we can all join hands, rather than butt heads, to offer dogs and other animals the protection they need from abuse and neglect.