Surrounded by dog lovers and their four-legged friends, Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Saturday he said would help protect consumers who buy a dog or cat and then learn the animal is seriously ill.
The so-called "puppy lemon law" also has another goal: putting pressure on pet stores that get dogs from overcrowded puppy mills.
"This law ... is all about protecting our pets and protecting our families who love their pets," Quinn told supporters gathered for the ceremony at Chicago's Wiggly Field dog park. "We don't want those who are conducting these puppy mills anywhere in the United States to get away with what they're doing. That's our real mission."
Illinois is the 21st state to pass a lemon law that applies to pets.
The law allows pet owners to get a full refund or replacement if they buy a pet from a store and it dies within 21 days. Pet owners also could get a replacement pet or be reimbursed for the cost of veterinary care if they keep the animal and a veterinarian determines it was sick or diseased when it was sold.
The law also requires pet stores to report any outbreak of diseases to the state Department of Agriculture and to inform customers if outbreaks of certain illnesses have occurred at their store.
Opponents said the bill was too far-reaching and anti-business. But supporters, including the Humane Society, said their push for the legislation was inspired in part by a 2012 outbreak of canine distemper at a Chicago-area pet store chain. The Humane Society says an investigation found the stores obtained the dogs from puppy mills, where dogs were being kept in cramped cages and not receiving proper care.
"It holds pet stores accountable," said Stacey Smith, who attended the ceremony with her dog Fritzie. The Yorkie — who got a tousle on the head from the governor — was dropped off at a shelter eight years ago "filthy dirty" and suffering from a liver problem, Smith said.
Cari Meyers is founder of The Puppy Mill Project, which works to educate people in the Chicago area about puppy mills. She said the organization hears from people every day who have a dead or dying dog they bought from a pet store. Some owners end up spending thousands of dollars on veterinary care, she said.
Meyers and other supporters said their ultimate goal is to see stores that sell dogs banned entirely in Illinois.
In the meantime, she called the puppy lemon law "a dream come true."
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, was sponsored by state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, and Rep. Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat.