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. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

“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.”

McCarthy also said the responsibility should not be designated to the Illinois Department of Agriculture because even when inspectors visit pet stores, owners are able to hide their offending practices.

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.”

However, their biggest initiative now is focused on Chicago pet stores.

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.

Collar and Leash no longer sells purebred puppies. Instead, they host animal rescue organization adoption events every weekend. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

Collar and Leash no longer sells purebred puppies. Instead, they host animal rescue organization adoption events every weekend. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

“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.

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.”

Chinatown to feel pain of Red Line reconstruction

Starting May 19th, getting to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood will be more complicated than simply stepping off the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line stop.

For anyone looking to get to the area via train, the Red Line South reconstruction project will force a reroute to buses, the Green Line, car, bike or other transportation.

The project involves closing nine train stations from Chinatown/Cermak through 95th/Dan Ryan. The projected is expected to take five months.

While the many areas included in the project are expected to undergo changes once construction begins, Chinatown is likely see to a substantial impact on business, experts and business owners say.

“The Red Line is a lifeline for the dozens of small businesses in Chinatown,” said Dr. Joe Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. “They are going to feel the pain.”  

During the closure, the CTA will provide an express shuttle bus service between the Roosevelt and Cermak-Chinatown stations, a one and one-half mile distance. Red Line trains will be rerouted to the nearby Green Line.

“It’s not going to be as convenient as it was because it was so direct before,” said Irene Tao, associate director of the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.

According to the CTA, shuttle buses will run 24 hours a day, but those who will need to rely on them are unsure of how well they will serve as a replacement.

“The traffic could be bad due to shuttle buses … but on the other hand, shuttle buses might bring unexpected visitors that might be from the city but never visit or knew about Chinatown,” said Steven Lu, administrative assistant at the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.


The Chinatown-Cermak Red Line station will be closed from May 19 through Oct. 19 for the CTA’s Red Line Red Reconstruction Project. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

Lizzie Hinderhan works as a sales supervisor at Hoypoloi, 2235 S. Wentworth Ave. She said she thinks business will depend on how consistent the shuttle buses are.

“People probably won’t come if they have to wait for a while them,” she said.

Despite their regular customers who live in the area, much of the foot traffic in Hoypoloi comes from tourists traveling from downtown, according to Hinderhan. She said she and many other businesses nearby expect to see a decline once construction begins.

“I think business will be down 10 to 15 percent,” Ida Mui, a server at Moon Palace, 216 W. Cermak Road, said. “We’ll definitely be affected.”

Schwieterman said he thinks the project is not necessarily “going to wipe them out,” but it will be a difficult period of time for smaller businesses, especially those that rely on big weekend tourism business.

“I think Chinatown is already feeling pain of a flat economy and this is a one kick punch you might say,” Schwieterman said.

Said Mui: “Summer brings a lot of business. But we have no choice but to deal with this.”

The project will also require some schedule adjusting for current residents who take the Red Line outside of the neighborhood to school and work.

Jun Xu, 18, attends Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave. Xu said his route to school will be disrupted by the construction and he will need to start his day much earlier. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

Jun Xu, 18, attends Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave. Xu said his route to school will be disrupted by the construction and he will need to start his day much earlier. (Photo by Elizabeth Schuetz)

Jun Xu, 18, is a senior at Lake View High School, 4015 N. Ashland Ave., who travels 30 minutes a day to get to school. He said once the construction begins, it will then take him over an hour.

“I will have to get up at six, take the Orange Line to the Brown Line and then get on a bus,” Xu said. “I’m not excited.”

Gov. Quinn talks MAP funding at DePaul

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks at DePaul about MAP grant funding in Illinois Dec. 12. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks at DePaul about MAP grant funding in Illinois Dec. 12. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

By Angelica Robinson and Josclynn Brandon

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said. “We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

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Local artist lands on Primetime TV

Chicago has been no stranger to this fall’s primetime television line up. And neither has local artist, Nancie King Mertz.

Serving as the setting for many new and returning shows including Fox’s “The Chicago Fire,” Starz’s “Boss,” and MTV’s “Underemployed,” familiar Chicago locations can be seen on television on just about any given weeknight, and, coincidentally, after set designers found their way into Mertz’s Lakeview frame shop, so can much of her Chicago-themed artwork.

With a Fall Show, featuring work she spent five straight days working on in New York City, opening Friday, Oct. 26, Mertz’s success has reached heights she never expected.

Owner of Artful Framer Studios and Art de Triumph, 2938 N. Clark St., two combined spaces, Mertz’s oil paintings and frame work have been on display and for sale in the city since she and her husband first relocated to the area from Central Illinois in the late 1980’s.

Nancie King Mertz’s work lines the walls of her Lakeview Gallery, Art de Triumph.

Leaving an established career and frame shop behind, Mertz and her husband were ready for a major change in scenery and inspiration. Painting mostly people in their previous neighborhood, Mertz quickly shifted her focus to the urban architecture that made up her new home.

Nancie King Mertz’s studio is located at 2938 N. Clark St.

Nestled on a Clark Street strip lined with apartment rental service companies and neighborhood dry cleaners, it is no surprise that the screen door to Mertz’s gallery adorned with a string of metal bell chimes, stood out to the Hollywood set designers stopping in for frame repair in the summer of 2010.

“It’s always exciting when they come in because they work so fast,” said Mertz. “They come in and say, ‘Okay, the truck will be here in twenty minutes, we need this and this and this.'”

Standing among stacks of her latest work from her September trip to the streets of New York City, Mertz explains the story of her first meeting with the crew.

“They came in and said, ‘Wow, where did you get all this Chicago artwork?’ and I said that it was mine,’ said Mertz. ‘I definitely know they were glad that they could have me sign the one release needed and then be good to go.”

Serving as background on shows including “The Mob Doctor” and canceled series “The Chicago Code,” her artwork is constantly rotated from sets.

“They rent and they buy it,” said Mertz. “If they return to the set like they do in ‘The Good Wife,’ then they buy it.'”

While getting adjusted to the “crazy fast pace” the set designers work in has not been much of an issue for Mertz and her store manager, DePaul University alum, Jackie Alcantara who has also had her work displayed on “The Mob Doctor”, getting to finally scout both their work on screen has been.

Mertz’s artwork can be seen on Starz’s “Boss,” Fox’s “The Mob Doctor,” and “The Good Wife” on CBS.

“I don’t have a TV,” said Alcantara, taking a break from hanging Mertz’s latest work on partially bare gallery walls. “It’s still a huge compliment though.”

Alcantara first met Mertz when she began an internship at her gallery during her junior year of college while working on an Art Education degree. Since then, Alcantara has sold her work among Mertz’s in the same Lakeview shop, started a sketchbook business and finished a children’s book.

“Nancie’s nice enough to let me show my work here,” said Alcantara of her boss.

It is that same genuine compassion and expertise Nancie offers that keeps customers and friends returning to purchase her work season after season.

“I have people that have 30 t0 40 originals,” said Nancie, as her friend Kurt walks into the store with a bottle of $7 wine.

“What’s this for?” Mertz laughs.

Her friend answers after letting her go from a congratulatory hug, “well, it was cheap.”

Mertz’s latest work can be seen in “New York, New Work” at Art de Triumph, 2938 N. Clark St.
Friday, Oct. 26, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

Applause due for Affleck’s, “Argo”

The suspense built in the few final scenes of Ben Affleck’s latest project, and surefire multiple Academy Award nominee, “Argo,” is comparable to the anxiety felt in a dentist’s office awaiting a root canal.
Armrest clutching, teeth grinding and slight perspiration feel only natural under the circumstances.
The dramatic thriller based on the true events is set in the midst of the 1970′s Iranian Revolution and tells the story of the unusually ludicrous plan used to free six American hostages hiding in the home of the Canadian ambassador after Islamist militants take control of the U.S. embassy.
An all-star cast including Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Victor Garber is led by a fully bearded Affleck, the film’s director, as Tony Mendez, an American Intelligence officer responsible for the mission to return the entrapped back home.

Director and actor Ben Affleck speaks with reporters at the premiere of his film Argo in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 10. Argo is based on covert operation to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.

Father to a ten-year old boy, Mendez, devises the plan of posing the group as a fake film crew scouting a location for their latest science-fiction movie, “Argo,” after attempting to catch up on his son’s school day while watching “Planet of the Apes” from a distant hotel room.
With the help of a once-Hollywood hotshot, Lester Siegel, played comedically perfect by Arkin, and John Goodman as Special Effects master, John Chambers, as well as with wavering support from Cranston’s, Jack O’Donnell at CIA headquarters, Mendez sets forth on his mission.
Quick scenes of Islamic sweatshop children reassembling shredded U.S. documents along with seamless cuts like one from a tight shot of a frantically in-use typewriter to a wide-shot of a defeated Mendez in a quiet, empty hotel room, are examples of one of the film’s strongest features, flawlessly clean editing.
A lighter humorous undertone is complemented by a wonderfully suitable soundtrack which contributes appropriately to the two-hour long film’s smooth flow from heart-stopping suspense to short, rare moments of relief.
Airport scenes showcase the crew members’ anxiousness along with the film’s strong writing and by the time the credits roll, nothing is left unaddressed.
“If we wanted applause we would have joined the circus,” said Cranston’s, O’Donnell at one point in the film.
However, thankfully for Affleck, clowns and elephant acts are probably not to be expected in his near future. As often felt while leaving the dentist’s office, applause was certainly necessary as exiting the theater.
****-Four stars

“People in the City” take on Chicago

Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz are two elderly women impatiently waiting for coffee and menus at a neighborhood diner one minute and two sloppily drunk young Cubs fans outside Wrigley Field another. No big deal, just another night out for the so-called “partners in crime.”
Starring in “People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol and the American Dream” through Oct. 14 at Luna Central, 3914 N. Clark, the “tall and short” duo, Mateo and Diaz, make up “Dominizuelan,” an Latino improv comedy group originally based in Lakeview.
Portraying 20 different characters throughout their approximately 70 minute long show, the synchronization and casualty Mateo and Diaz exude on stage appears effortless and familiar. As audience members turned to each other in fits of laughter and aghast, it was clear that the pair have no trouble nailing each stereotype they set out to mimic.
While they tackle improvisations of many Chicago characters locals stumble upon on a daily basis, corner “Streetwise” peddlers for example, “the short Dominican and tall “Venezuelan” fail to touch upon their backgrounds in “corporate America.” Despite that, it is hard to fault them. Having toured nationwide, they group also tie their connections to New York City and Miami into the show.
Their portrayals, crude yet honest, had theatergoers leaving the show telling their girlfriends how they see elderly men just like the two presented, outside their grocery stores all the time.
Presented by the nonprofit, “pan-Latino” arts organization, the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, it is fitting that the set of colorful sketches will run throughout the course of National Hispanic Heritage Awareness month. With a new T-Mobile sponsorship, ticket prices were cut in half to $10.
“We fa-moose,” said Mateo to Diaz as a small group of fans approached them after their Thursday, Sept. 27 show. “But we keep real.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Mateo