The protests are over and a new day has begun at Collar and Leash, Chicago’s oldest pet store. As of April 1, Collar and Leash (in Old Town) will stop selling puppies and kittens and move to a humane model by working with rescues on pet adoption. It’s a move that has been in the making for quite some time. It’s also been a very personal mission for the two women at the core of this story.
“Collar and Leash was founded by my husband’s grandmother in 1956,” says Sonja Raymond, the store’s owner. “It’s always been a family business. Last year my husband’s mom passed away, and up until her death, she was working with me towards this humane model. My husband, his brother, and I are moving forward as a family to keep the business alive in an ethical and respectful way.”
The past several years, The Puppy Mill Project has staged protests outside the store on some weekends. Their goal was to not only educate the public about the origin of pets sold in pet stores – puppy mills – but also to make a change.
“This is huge for all of us,” says Cari Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “I grew up looking at the puppies in the window of this store; it’s been my priority to stop the sale of dogs and cats at this store and move it to an adoption model. We’ll be working with shelters and rescues to host adoption days at Collar and Leash in the future.”
On a snowy Friday earlier this winter, Meyers and Raymond met to talk. The two women agreed to work together to make this big change. Meyers will connect Raymond with various rescues in Chicago and the surrounding areas. Raymond will host adoption events and pave the way for more dogs and cats who just need a place to go to possibly connect with their future families.
For the past 56 years, Collar and Leash has been a continually evolving family business. They started off showing dogs and eventually grew to include grooming, boarding, and a full-scale pet store. Raymond and her husband Dan took over the business about 20 years ago.
“We really take pride in what we do, and our reputation is on the line with each dog that we sell,” says Raymond. “We had been working with distributors and it just wasn’t working out anymore. I had criteria I wanted to meet. If a puppy had defects, they were not backing it up. It was our tough luck and it’s just a disservice to the dogs and our customers. It’s time for a change.”
And, it is a big change indeed. It’s more than just the brokers and distributors that had gotten to Raymond. Collar and Leash also has a boarding business neighboring the Animal Welfare League’s intake facility. AWL is an open access facility that takes in any dogs or cats that come their way. They don’t adopt out at that location and are at the mercy of rescues to step in and save the animals before they are euthanized.
“I volunteer there to help with grooming the dogs, and I know what happens to the pets that aren’t rescued,” says Raymond. “There are so many homeless pets there and at Chicago Animal Care and Control that just need a second chance or they’ll be destroyed. We can make a difference hosting adoption events in conjunction with rescues. I hope because our store is in such a good location many more people will be able to come out and meet these animals and adopt a pet.”
Collar and Leash is down to its last seven puppies and will begin to partner with breed-specific rescues and general rescues in Chicago by hosting weekly adoption events. They also will be giving back to the community by hosting vaccination clinics and wellness days in conjunction with the Broadway Animal Hospital.
“This is not just about not selling puppies anymore, but about community wellness and awareness as well,” adds Raymond. “This is something that we’re ready for and I want to give back to the community. Selling pets in the store takes a lot more effort; it’s time to hand over the care to the rescues that know what they’re doing.”
Collar and Leash joins Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville, Thee Fish Bowl in Evanston, and Wilmette Pet Center as the fourth pet store in the metropolitan area to go humane.
The Puppy Mill Project worked with Dog Patch owner Greg Gordon starting in November of 2011 to stop selling puppies and move to a rescue model—a move that Gordon has called a success. The organization also worked with Thee Fish Bowl the previous year. Wilmette Pet Center works with long-time rescue partner Adopt-a-Pet and fosters dogs and cats for adoption.
“The pet stores that sell dogs do make a lot of money from that end of their business,” says Meyers. “Once they make the transition, they will see a lot of new customers that will want to shop at their store because they’ve stopped selling puppies. We would like to help more stores make this transition.”
Collar and Leash will host a re-grand opening weekend Saturday, April 6 from 10 am – 6 pm and April 7, from 11 am – 5 pm. There will be animal adoptions on-site as well as Broadway Animal Hospital performing wellness checks and vaccinations. And there will also be plenty of volunteers from The Puppy Mill Project on hand to show their support.
For more information on The Puppy Mill Project, visit ThePuppyMillProject.org.
Kathy Mordini is an animal lover who has counted rescue pets as a member of her family since she was a child. As a writer, she is passionate about advocating for homeless pets and the rescues that give these pets a second chance. She also volunteers for The Puppy Mill Project. Read her pet rescue columns on the Examiner and her pet care columns on Doggy Woof.