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.”

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.

Martin Creed Plays Chicago

Debuting his largest kinetic sculpture to date, Martin Creed’s “Work No. 1357, MOTHERS”, is effective in grabbing attention and focusing on the magnitude and impact of mothers in society.

Standing over 20 feet tall and 48 feet wide, the white, neon, kinetic sculpture rotates 360 degrees in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The piece is one out of a series by Creed, who holds a yearlong residency at the museum called “Martin Creed Plays Chicago”, where the artist uses various locations in the city as the canvas for his works.

Martin Creed. Work No. 1357, MOTHERS MCA Chicago

The sculpture was created to highlight the importance and superiority of mothers in the world, says Creed of his art. It is meant to be imposing and impossible to miss, a representation of Creed’s interpretation of mothers. The size of the spinning, glowing, sculpture, as well as the highly visible public location, makes ignoring the piece a near impossible feat.

Like the most of the pieces in Creed’s repertoire, language is used to turn every day words and phrases into artwork to be interpreted by each viewer. His coinciding piece, “Work No. 845 (2007)”, displayed inside the museum, spells out the word ‘THINGS’ in bright letters and is only a few inches high – a stark contrast from his interpretation of the word ‘MOTHERS’. Individually, meaning can be drawn from each piece; but as a collection the importance, or lack there of, of each represented word becomes even more apparent.

He is also known to use inanimate objects as focal points, bringing attention to items from daily life that are often ignored. In “Half the Air in a Given Space”, Creed fills common Chicago landmarks halfway with balloons, giving visitors a visual and physical experience when they walk through his work.

Martin Creed. Work No. 268, Half the air in a given space, 2000

Creed, a UK native, is a well-known musician and an artist- winning the 2001 Turner Prize for his artwork. While he has gained celebrity for his pieces, they have not always been well received. Considered overly minimalist by some, Creed’s works have been vandalized in protest to his style. Despite the objection of critics, Creed continues to create works of art, displaying them internationally.

“Work No. 1357, MOTHERS” will be on display until the end of Dec. Two more additions to Creed’s Chicago collection can be seen in the upcoming months, being unveiled in Nov. and Dec. To follow Creed’s exhibit in Chicago go to http://www2.mcachicago.org/creedplayschicago/ or follow the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago on Twitter @mcachicago.