When Cari Meyers decided to take aim at puppy mills five years ago, she didn’t know what the future held. She had been serving on the board of a large non-profit rescue group and started to read up on puppy mills and the pet store connection. As she looked at Chicago’s euthanasia figures and the sales figures from pet stores, she realized it was time to take action – and – The Puppy Mill Project was born.
“The more I learned about puppy mills and pet stores, the more I knew we had to cut off the head of the dragon,” says Meyers. “Nobody was talking about puppy mills – nobody. Yet, thousands of dogs were being sold in Chicago’s pet stores and thousands more were being killed at animal control. And, the dogs being sold at pet stores were coming from these horrid puppy mills.”
The Puppy Mill Project set out to change things the only way Meyers knew how – an old fashioned grassroots effort. They protested outside pet stores. Worked on developing education programs and started thinking about how they could change things in Chicago and Illinois
“At the time, it was so overwhelming because there was so much to do and no one was listening,” says Meyers. “We just hit the pavement and started to do what we could a pet store at a time.”
Tomorrow marks the five-year anniversary of The Puppy Mill Project. And, when you look at the long list of accomplishments for the group, it’s hard to believe it’s been only five years. It’s also hard to fathom that a small band of determined advocates has gotten so much done in such a short period of time.
I first entered the picture three years ago. I met Cari over lunch to talk about my work blogging in the Chicago rescue community and to discuss her work in the battle against puppy mills. She was looking for marketing and PR advice to help her group build awareness and add to their small coalition.
Several hours later, I left with my head spinning and a short list of what Cari and her group wanted to do – file a consumer fraud suit against Furry Babies and outlaw the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in Chicago’s pet stores.
Coming from someone less determined than Meyers, that might have sounded a bit crazy. However, she was slowly lining her ducks in a row and working connections behind the scene.
I had little doubt that I was connecting with someone about to make some major changes in Chicago.
The list of what Meyers and her group has accomplished is impressive.
- Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Acts – Passage of Chicago (in February) and Cook County (in April) Ordinances outlawing the sale of commercially bred dogs and cats in pet stores. Cook County’s law goes into effect in October and Chicago’s in March.
Pet stores going humane – Worked with Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville, Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston and Collar and Leash in Chicago to help the stores go humane with adoption models. Dog Patch has been very transparent with their change-over which has helped educate and pave the way for other stores to make the same type of move.
- Peaceful protests – Staged peaceful protests outside pet stores to educate consumers about the pet store/puppy mill connection. Protests were held outside Northbrook Court leading to the closure of Pawsh Pups. The Puppy Mill Project has also protested in the area of Naperville that is home to Happiness is Pets, Petland and Furry Babies (in nearby Aurora). The new Happiness is Pets in Naperville Crossing has also been a focus, drawing over 60 people at a recent protest.
- Closed pet stores – Protests paved the way for the closure of two Pawsh Pups stores, one Planet Pooch and a Gurnee Mills pet store.
Education programs – The Puppy Mill Project goes to schools, summer camps and community organizations to give age-appropriate presentations to children and adults about puppy mills and their connection to pet stores and Internet pet sales. The organization also has booths at pet festivals and community events to spread the word about puppy mills.
- Advertising campaigns – The Puppy Mill Project has paid for billboards in strategic locations, advertisements on Chicago busses and advertising in movie theaters.
- Launched National Puppy Mill Project – In the summer of 2014, National Puppy Mill Project was launched so that groups around the country may join forces and share knowledge and resources in their fight against puppy mills.
- Furry Babies Lawsuit – Investigated fraud claims against the suburban pet store chain Furry Babies. That information was eventually used to file a lawsuit in the summer of 2013. The suit claims the pet store employees defrauded consumers by claiming they came from reputable breeders instead of puppy mills and accuses the chain of selling sick puppies. The Puppy Mill Project had gathered evidence for over two years, laying the groundwork for the suit.
Petland investigation – A suburban woman took photos of emaciated dogs at a Naperville Petland in July. The photos were passed to The Puppy Mill Project. They launch an investigation and publicized the situation putting it in the spotlight (see post).
- The Mothers in the Mills – The Puppy Mill Project hosts its annual benefit the day before Mother’s Day to build awareness about the mother dogs left behind in the mills. Funds from that event support educational efforts for the group.
- Puppy Mill Awareness Day – The organization has held a peaceful march on Michigan Avenue the past for Puppy Mill Awareness Day.
Millie’s Mission – The Puppy Mill Project has launched a campaign to raise funds to help defray the medical costs of rescues that save puppy mill dogs. Millie’s Mission was named after Meyers’ dog Millie who was rescued from a puppy mill by the National Mill Dog Rescue and adopted by Meyers.
- The Chicago Pet Project – Launched a book project – The Chicago Pet Project – featuring prominent Chicagoans and their pets. The funds from the book will support Millie’s Mission.
- Closed an Amish Puppy Mill – During an investigation into a local pet store, The Puppy Mill Project found a disturbing USDA report tied to an Amish puppy miller who had killed dogs by hitting them with a lead pipe. When the USDA failed to act on the situation, the group sent a letter to the area’s states attorney who closed the mill and charged Amos Diener with a felony. The group also facilitated rescue for some of the dogs left in the mill.
- Southern Illinois puppy mill rescue – The Puppy Mill Project facilitated the rescue of 93 dogs from a puppy mill rescue in Southern Illinois. They worked with several rescues to remove and start the rehoming process for the dogs.
“Some days it seems like we are really swimming upstream. There is so much to do and I just don’t feel that we are making a difference,” says Meyers. “Then, I stop and look at the changes in laws, the lawsuit and all the lives saved at Dog Patch and I know we are on the right track.”
The Puppy Mill Project has been talking to officials in Naperville and other cities as they consider changing laws relating to pet stores.
On Sunday, September 21, The Puppy Mill Project will hold their Third Annual Puppy Mill Awareness March on Michigan Avenue. The march will be a tribute to Chicago and Cook County for the new laws they’ve passed and is aimed at building awareness on the pet store/puppy mill connection. The group holds its annual walk – Miles for Mothers in the Mills – Naperville Pet Walk on Sunday, October 21.
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