Puppy Mill Project and Collar and Leash go humane

A new report from the Humane Society of the United States found that two of the country’s worst puppy mills are located in Illinois. In effort to help all local pet stores end their relationships with puppy mills, Cari Meyer, founder of Chicago’s The Puppy Mill Project, is fighting back.

“A puppy mill is a commercial breeding facility,” Meyer said. “There’s no vet care, there’s no socialization. These are dogs who literally live in a cage all their life.”

While the worst of Illinois’ puppy mills are located in the suburbs, Meyer recently celebrated the grand reopening of Old Town’s Collar and Leash, 1435 N. Wells St. after they decided to “go humane,” no longer selling puppy mill-bred dogs.

“I want every puppy mill in this country [to be closed] because of the abuse, the large scale cruelty that goes on,” Meyer said. “It’s systematic so they know what they’re doing, it’s not accidental.”

The Puppy Mill Project’s work with Collar and Leash, in business since 1965, to change their puppy sale policy was settled on a verbal handshake, Meyer said.

Collar and Leash, 1435 N. Wells St., is Chicago’s first pet store to go humane.

Collar and Leash, 1435 N. Wells St., is Chicago’s first pet store to go humane.

“I said to her that you’re the oldest pet store in Chicago, you’ll be the first pet store in Chicago to go humane.”

Sonja Raymond, co-owner of Collar and Leash with her husband, Dan, said their store is catered to Old Town’s pet owners and their cats, dogs and small animals. She said that while they bred their own pets when they first opened, they had to find other resources once demand became greater.

“We had to outsource,” Raymond said. “And in outsourcing, we had to rely on breeders other than ourselves to get quality puppies and kittens.”

She said their need became so large that their puppies that they thought were coming from breeders were then being sourced from distributors, also known as puppy brokers.

“Since we’ve had more puppies come up with hereditary or congenital defects it became an issue and we just decided it wasn’t worth it to put these people through the heartache,” Raymond said of her customers. “These are our children that we’re passing along and it was just too much for us to bear.”

Raymond said that they began to reach out to their breeders for information after more and more customers would return saying their newly purchased puppy was now sick.

“We found out that, some of these people— even though they have an FDA license— doesn’t mean that they’re quality breeders,” Raymond said.

To figure out who was reputable and who to cut ties with, Collar and Leash then gave breeders a year to come up with information on where these puppies were coming from. Raymond asked for any documentation that would show where these puppies were bred and how they live from day to day.

Not one of the five to six breeders she worked with responded to her request.

Collar and Leash then finally decided to end their relationships with their breeders altogether.

“We just decided we can’t do this anymore,” Raymond said. “If we can’t see where these puppies are coming from, there’s no way I’m going to put them in the hands of the public.”

Ida McCarthy, Chicago’s campaign coordinator for the Companion Animal Protection Society, or CAPS, said it is important that the public know of these facilities in order to put them out of business.

“That’s the only way to get these places to stop what they’re doing,” McCarthy said.

If the Illinois Department of Agriculture had more inspectors to visit the multiple puppy mills and puppy mill-supplied pet stores, it is possible more of them would be shut down, according to Meyer.

“I think we have four, and they don’t just inspect puppy mills,” Meyer said. “It’s anything that has to do with agriculture.”

Meyer said one the Puppy Mill Project’s goals is to take companion animals, dogs and cats in this case, out of the hands of the Department of Agriculture.

“They’re not agriculture, these are our family members; they sleep in our beds, they play with our kids.”

As the first pet store to take steps against animal cruelty, Raymond said it has been very difficult for them financially.

“It’s going to take some time, you know, when you’re not selling $900-$1,000 dogs, you have to make it up,” Meyer said.

The Puppy Mill Project is not focused on shutting stores like Collar and Leash down, but to help them once they rework their relationships with suppliers.

“We’re going to set them up to succeed and not to fail.”

While Collar and Leash may no longer have puppies to come in and pet in the store, the store now hosts adoption events every Saturday. Since the reopening, they’ve welcomed different rescue organizations from all over the state, including the Northern Illinois Pug Rescue and the Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus.

“With all the shelter animals coming in and the rescues, it’s like we have a whole new world of babies to care for and make sure that they get good homes,” Raymond said.

Collar and Leash no longer sells purebred puppies. Instead, they host animal rescue organization adoption events every weekend.

Collar and Leash no longer sells purebred puppies. Instead, they host animal rescue organization adoption events every weekend.

The overall response has not been completely satisfactory, though. Raymond said they still have people come in asking for purebred puppies and when they will get them back.

“There’s pros and cons,” Raymond said. “Some people are upset that we stopped selling puppies and kittens but I’ll be perfectly honest, those people are the people who were just coming in here for the petting zoo.”

But right now, Meyer said it is up to the community to support Raymond and Collar and Leash for setting the right example for Illinois pet shop owners.

“Cari and I decided to come together and do things for the greater good,” Raymond said. “What’s good for Chicago is not putting those dogs back out there.”

DePaul University Announces New Arena Plans

On Thursday May 17, 2013 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to build a new $300 million event center containing a new basketball arena for DePaul University. The new plans will cost an estimated total of $173 million, with DePaul financing $70 million. This plan has received mixed reaction from the public.

[View the story “DePaul Announces New Stadium Plans” on Storify]

Commuters Prepare for the Closing of the Red Line Garfield Stop

A Red Line train approaches heading towards the soon to be closed 95th/Dan Ryan stop.

A Red Line train approaches heading towards the soon to be closed 95th/Dan Ryan stop.

As the Red Line South Branch reconstruction project approaches, South Side commuters to have to find alternative routes, and local businesses are preparing for a potential loss in customers until the renovations are completed in October.

The renovations, which start May 19th, will cover a total of 9 stops, Chinatown through 95th/DanRyan. With the University of Chicago located near the Garfield stop of the Red Line, it is not only local workers that will be affected by the change, but also the 17,000 college students and faculty that attend the campus.
Yadav Gowda, a University of Chicago undergraduate student, lives Hyde Park and doesn’t need to commute to the campus but uses the Red Line often to get into the city.

He said he will be inconvenienced by the closing every time he wants to head North. “I think a lot of people are annoyed by it, but then again it isn’t like we use it every day,” said Gowda of the many students who live on campus.

While students like Gowda do not need to use the Red Line daily, when they do there are consistent delays, which is one of the problems the CTA is looking to amend with the renovations.

“I think it has been long overdue,” he said. “Every time I go on the Red Line there is always a delay of 10 to 15 minutes due to track problems, sometimes even more, so I think it is a good thing that they are doing it. I just wish it wouldn’t mess with so many people’s commutes during the day.”

CTA passengers wait in the rain for a delayed Red Line train.

CTA passengers wait in the rain for a delayed Red Line train.

Todd Teifer, a University of Chicago faculty member, commutes from the Sheridan Red Line stop to the Garfield stop to get to the campus. Teifer approved of the five-month closing if it will make his commute in the future easier and more convenient.

Originally the CTA proposed a possible shutdown of the Red Line for four years solely on the weekends versus the five month permanent closure. The decision of the later choice has received mixed opinions from the public.

“I could take two busses down instead,” Teifer said. “Getting to the University of Chicago there are express buses, so I say get the renovations over with.”

Many local businesses in addition to university commuters will be heavily affected by the loss of commuter traffic when the Red Line is closed.

Joyce Mitchell, a Morgan Park resident who works at Garfield and Dan Ryan Currency near the Garfield stop, is concerned about a drastic loss in business during some of their heaviest months of business and would rather the CTA close for four years on the weekends.

“If it is from May to October then we are losing business at that time,” Mitchell said. “If it is just the weekends, that is less business at that time any way.”

Mitchell also added that Garfield and Dan Ryan Currency has yet to create a plan to counteract the imminent loss in business due to a lack of information on the renovations by the CTA.

Not only are the renovations a concern for business, but also an inconvenience for her daily commute.

“I work early in the morning so I am going to have to get up even earlier. We are talking getting up at 4 o’clock to be at work at 7,” Mitchell said.

While the CTA will be providing shuttle busses as an alternative to the Red line, crowdedness and the summer heat is also going to be a problem says Mitchell.

Local security guard Erica Green commutes 30 minutes to work every day and currently experiences regular delays of 10 to 15 minutes on the Red Line.

Despite these daily delays she thinks that the CTA should close the Red Line only on the weekends in order to keep commuters from having to find alternate routes.

“I will have to take the Green line, but it’s an inconvenience and will take and extra 30 minutes,” Green said.

Reporting Skills for the Modern Convergent Journalist

The rapid growth of technology has changed the role of the journalist from reporting and writing in one platform, to someone who has to gather and distribute information in many different multimedia platforms. The basics of a convergent journalist remains the same, in that in order to be effective good reporting and writing skills should be the basis of their skill set.

A modern day journalist has to have the technical skills of a whole news crew. While some of the skills may be known at the basic level, they still must be able to take pictures that can be used in print and online, take video and edit it, write for print, broadcast, and online, and know how to post their content to be seen on the Internet.

Once a journalist has learned how to convey their message through writing they have to be able to gather information from many different sources such as the Internet, in person reporting, and archive research, and build a story from these different streams. They have to manage this stream of information to decide what is relevant and newsworthy.

Often times the information that comes across the web is user generated and has to be filtered and reviewed by a convergent journalist in order to verify the information and validity of the content. The digital rights of the content that is going to be disbursed has to be examined and managed to ensure that copyrights aren’t infringed upon.

Once the story is created, a convergent journalist must distribute it through interactive content, social media, video, and written content. Using multiple platforms to tell the story is how a convergent journalist engages different audiences and demographics.

Being able to create, edit, and share content makes multimedia journalists more adaptable and valuable to news rooms. With a wide and varied skill set, the multimedia journalist can take bring the newsroom anywhere.

DJ Step

Two years ago DJ Step was just Ben Stepnowski- a Connecticut native who had never stepped, no pun intended, a foot in Chicago nor mixed a track on a turntable. “The first time I came to Chicago was on new student admission day at DePaul. It was like a new world”, Step said.

Now DJ Step is a protégé of the highly acclaimed Crossfader King DJ Company, spinning his own sets at some of the hottest venues in Chicago and opening for DJ legends such as DJ Jazzy Jeff.

“Everybody is a DJ. It’s pretty much exploded now and everyone has at least one friend that claims to DJ and uses some type of computer with a gadget pad or light up buttons machine”, said Step. Wanting to stand out and become a master of the turntables and create his own sound, Step moved out of the familiar realm of electronic mixing and into the old school, technically demanding, world of vinyl.

“I was introduced to DJing during the age of Serato, which is the most popular computer program to help link up your computer’s mp3 files on to actual turntables and play them live. I progressed into this, learning the feel of real vinyl and what it feels like to scratch on real decks,” said Step.

Stepnowski’s planned career path in sociology changed when he went to a party and saw Matt Roan of the Crossfader King DJ Company mixing and engaging the crowd. That was his ‘ah-ha’ moment, realizing that DJing was more than just playing other’s hits. From then on he ‘stalked’ Roan, following him to every event and performance he could. “They finally told me that I could either intern with them or stop following them,” Step said, laughing.

Originally a fan of hip-hop, DJ Step has evolved his music to blend hip-hop beats with the industry popular modern house, creating a unique mix of sounds for his listeners.

Step doesn’t want his music to be just a trend or a hobby, but making a career out of his art takes long hours and hard work. While the rest of his friends are relishing in the festivities of their senior year, Step spends his nights and weekends working and honing his talent- doing all he can to create a long term vocation out of his music.

Even though Step is relatively new in the DJ community he knows what it takes to create longevity. “What separates pros from your friendly neighborhood controller-based DJ is knowledge of music theory, a technical ability to manipulate records (scratch or various turntable techniques), the ability to market yourself, and a keen knowledge of the roots of music and sonic qualities that tracks posses today”, said Step.

While his career is his priority, remembering why he got into the industry is what keeps him going. Step said, beyond the technicality and business it is most important to “remember why you got into this in the first place, and that is to have fun, and make people forget about the stress and hardships of their lives in order to lose themselves on the dance floor. This to me is why I got into the industry and how I keep my bearings as it changes”.

Follow DJ Step’s music and events on Twitter @djBenStep.



Political revolution, execution, an overthrown dictator, and hostages equal the perfect recipe for a dramatic thriller, but add in calculated dry humor and quick wit and you have one of the best movies of the year.

It is a fine line to cross, making people laugh while portraying a very serious historical moment, but “Argo’s” producer, director, and actor Ben Affleck does it seamlessly.

Affleck plays Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who is tasked with extracting six stranded Americans from Iran after they escape an embassy takeover by Iranian rebels. Sequestered in the house of the generous Canadian ambassador, the ‘houseguests’, as the six Americans are called, become the most wanted people in Iran.

With no plausible extraction options, Mendez comes up with a plan so crazy no one would expect it to be a ruse used to sneak the houseguests out of the country. The ‘highly tactical’ CIA plan? Pose as Canadian filmmakers looking to use Iran for on-location shooting for the fake sci-fi action movie “Argo”. “This is our best bad idea we have, sir. By far ”, says Jack O’Donnell, the assistant deputy director of the CIA, trying to explain the crazy hoax to his superiors.

A story that would be too crazy to be a believable movie script is actually a page directly out of the history books. Affleck implements the perfect historically informative opening to “Argo”, which keeps viewers who are unfamiliar with the real life story knowledgeable enough to follow as the plot unfolds. He uses real news clips and recreated footage of the Iranian revolution alongside sci-fi graphic storyboards to show the juxtaposition and importance that Hollywood has to the rest of the story.

“If I’m doing a fake movie it’s going to be a fake hit!”, exclaims the Alan Arkin who plays Lester Siegel, the Hollywood producer who puts his name behind the fake film. The movie is infused with befitting comedy throughout, but uses Alan Arkin and John Goodman’s characters to carry the comedic lead- a perfect choice by Affleck, leaving a majority of the comedy for the Hollywood scenes, not to detract from the seriousness of the coinciding happenings in Iran.

“Argo” takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster through the fears and triumphs of the characters through drama and humor. It is a fantastic example of great filmmaking, script writing, editing, and acting, with every frame looking authentic to the time. Instead of being an over the top action adventure filled with explosions and unrealistic stunts, “Argo” is a grounded portrayal of a real event, mixed with entertainment value to boot.