Petland in Rockford closes, cites puppy mill bill

Animal rights activists, government officials say the bill has bipartisan support.
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 6:58 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A vacated store, empty parking lot and a sign on the door that reads “closed permanently” is all that is left at the Petland in Rockford.

A statement on the main page of the store’s website says that the decision came on February 23, 2022 and affects all Illinois pet stores.

Petland Closed
Petland Closed(WIFR)

The sign on the door reads:

“Due to misguided state laws, Illinois pet stores can no longer legally work with licensed and inspected professional breeders.

Only 4% of dogs sold in the USA are sold through pet stores. Pet stores are the only source of puppies in IL that are licensed, regulated breeders of the highest standards only.

Despite this, animal rights groups have convinced legislators that requiring pet stores to only source puppies from nonprofit rescues and shelters will close puppy mills. We contend that puppy mills exist in the unlicensed and unregulated world of dog breeders almost exclusively and do not cross paths with our pet store. Meanwhile, there are no restrictions on shelters or rescues that purchase dogs direct to the public. This misguided legislation will have no impact whatsoever on the targeted puppy mills yet will have significant impact on our valued employees.

Please reach out to your local House Representative or State Senator and tell them you support House Bill 4643 to protect pets, protect pet stores, and protect your right to choose where your next pet comes from.”

23 News reached out to Elizabeth Kunzelman, Vice President of Legislative and Public Affairs for Petland, Inc. for comment on the closure of their Illinois stores and received this statement:

“On February 23, HB1711 went into effect which bans the retail sale of dogs and cats at pet stores,” said Kunzelman. “These stores did not purchase from puppy mills. They purchased from the most regulated source of puppies in the United States.”

Kunzelman said that the day the law went into effect, flyers appeared on car windshields in the Petland parking lot advertising the sale of alleged AKC toy and teacup breeds.

“THIS is the choice that people will now have. No health warranty, no vet checks, no transparency,” said Kunzelman. “We are devastated for our store owners and their employees in Illinois.”

Kathy Mehelko actively advocates for the closure of pet mills, and raises dogs that formerly belonged to those facilities.

“The millers are more interested in profit than the health and welfare of the dog which means the dog does not get exercise, doesn’t get good food, doesn’t get good water,” Mehelko told 23 News.

Petland said the new law will ‘open the floodgates to the underground, black market pet trade, but Mehelko says Petland never had to close.

“We are very disappointed. The stores were not told they had to close down. They were told, all you have to do is switch from selling puppy mill dogs to dogs that come from shelters and rescues,” Mehelko said.

One humane group working to foster animals in a safe way is PAWS Humane Society in Cherry Valley.

“We have a lot of strays that come in and we post them as lost and found, and if no one claims them, we get them spayed neutured and vaccinated, and put them up for adoption,” said Linda Stinson, manager at PAWS.

State Representative Andrew Chesney, who sponsored HB1711, says it gained equal support from both sides of the aisle.

“Unfortunately there’s just a few companies that were not willing to adopt a humane model that’s been supported by every shelter, every animal rights group, and Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

Chesney says there are billion dollar corporations like pet smart who raise animals in a humane way so there is no excuse for companies to not change their ways.

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