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Monday, July 23, 2018

Chicago’s first-ever cat convention was like catnip to fans of felines

Posted By on 07.23.18 at 04:33 PM

Baby siblings Whiskey and Rye with Windy Kitty Cat Cafe owner Jenny Tiner at the Meow Meetup. - KAYLA MOLANDER
  • Kayla Molander
  • Baby siblings Whiskey and Rye with Windy Kitty Cat Cafe owner Jenny Tiner at the Meow Meetup.

The first rule of Meow Meetup: When other attendees ask about your Instagram, it's a trick question. What they're inquiring about isn't you—sorry, human—it's your cat's social media presence.

It's a pretty good time to be alive if you're a Felis catus. Or so it seemed at Chicago's first-ever cat convention. An estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont over the weekend in devotion to their chosen house pets. Some adopted adorable strays, listened to lectures like "How to #LoveCatsMore" that doubled as pro-cat agitprop, shopped for political cat toys (the Donald Trump one sold out in under an hour), attended a feline film festival, visited a cat-themed cafe, participated in cat yoga and bingo, and, yes, exchanged Instagram handles.

"Cats are taking over the world," pronounced Jessica Spaid, a manager of Windy Kitty, a Cat Cafe in Bucktown, as she held a pair of mewling kittens at the meetup.
But what kind of emperors will these tiny carnivorous mammals make? I must admit that, as a brand-new owner of a kitten, I left the meet-up feeling a bit insecure. Remember when ownership was mostly a matter of taking care of your cat's sustenance, shelter, litter box, and health care in exchange for—if you're lucky—some affection?

No longer. Feline-obsessed grassroots communities born on the Internet have grown and spawned celebrity cats with millions of followers who get book and movie deals and appearance fees at the cat-themed conventions, which keep springing up around North America since the debut of CatCon in Los Angeles in 2015. To keep up, cat enthusiasts must now serve as their creatures' PR person, social media manager, and marketing executive.

That might sound exhausting, but living in an era of cat supremacy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Take Lauren Mieli, Meow Meetup's founder. She got laid off from her Chicago-area marketing job in the last year and is turning her six-year-old cat blog, The Catnip Times, into a full-time job. After amassing almost 900,000 followers on Facebook and 50,000 on Instagram, she decided to organize a convention to bring cat lovers together in real life.

"Unlike, say, dog owners, cat people meet online because there is no such thing as a cat park in Chicago," said Mieli. "So I decided to go big or go home and said, let's do this. Let's have fun and bring together this huge Instagram community and influencers and friends of felines."

Mieli hopes that the Meow Meetup (which she'd like to turn into an annual event) can help normalize cat fandom to some extent—enough of the crazy cat lady cliche. "I was once in the closet about my love for cats, and then I came out, so to speak, when I started my blog," she says.

The biggest draw of cat cons still seems to be the promise of mingling with Instagram-famous felines at meet-and-greets. At the top of Saturday's bill was Lil' Bub, the odd but endearing saucer-eyed mutant cat from Bloomington, Indiana, who has her own media empire that includes a webseries, a book, a documentary, and most recently a video game. Attendees paid $100 each to briefly bask in the presence of 'Lil Bub and waited in lines to pet or get selfies with a handful of other, more minor, cat celebs.


I strolled over to celebrity cat's Chuck the Duck's booth to meet the Lakeview-based Instagram star, but the 11-year old orange tabby was on break in his hotel room, said his owner Cody VandeZande. Four years ago, VandeZande, a professional hairdresser, started to dress up his cat in elaborate costumes and post pictures of them online. One in particular, of Chuck wearing hair extensions in imitation of Beyoncé went viral, and he now has 11,500 Instagram followers. Not bad for a former barn cat from rural Wisconsin.

"It's been great so far," says VandeZande about his first cat con. "A bunch of Chuck's fans were so excited to see him. Everyone in this community is so supportive."

Even with Chuck taking a breather, VandeZande was busy promoting his cat's merch: stickers, pins, and a forthcoming ABC primer, The Chuck Book, an illustrated children's book featuring dozens of other Instagram-celebrity pets in alphabetical order.

"I never thought I'd be a crazy cat person," he confesses. "But it definitely did happen."

KAYLA MOLANDER
  • Kayla Molander

Four booths down from Chuck, I spied a different species of celebrity in the cat world. It's the booth of Jeanette Skaluba of Decatur, who in 2015 decided to try bringing cats from a nearby shelter to her yoga class? "Yoga and cats is a natural combination that no one thought of before," says Skaluba.

She taped the resulting event on a GoPro camera, and the video of a black-and-white colored kitty named Oreo slinking around or on top of Skaluba and other women as they made catlike poses earned 13 million views on YouTube and inspired what's become a nationwide phenomenon: Cat Yoga. "I still get contacted from media outlets about it," said Skaluba. "Recently it was BBC Russia."

Cat yoga's success has meant good things for Skaluba. Her Yoga4Cats became a both nonprofit and a licensed rescue organization last year, and she hosts special events such as an upcoming night session that pairs cat yoga with beer. Silly? Sure, but for a good cause. "Doing yoga with [the cats is] supposed to be a way to give them new exposure so they can get adopted," she says.

Don't be surprised if Lululemon has a Meow Meetup booth next year.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

All Hyde Park wants to know: Where’s Bobo?

Posted By on 06.22.18 at 06:00 AM

Karen Bradley has put up more than 250 signs since Bobo's disappearance. - LAUREN SALAS
  • Lauren Salas
  • Karen Bradley has put up more than 250 signs since Bobo's disappearance.

Hyde Park resident Karen Bradley has been asking for her neighbors' help in finding her beloved mourning dove Bobo, who escaped from a window in her home last month.

Bobo's plight gained the attention of the Hyde Park community when hand-drawn signs started popping up all over the neighborhood. Bradley has put up more than 250 of them, sometimes posting them for six hours a day. She doesn't intend to stop until he returns.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

McDonald’s new West Loop HQ is ‘perfect’ location for protesters to get their messages out

Posted By on 05.25.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the building in the former Harpo Studios space at 110 N. Carpenter, which they labelled the "Headquarters of Cruelty." - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Protesters held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of the building in the former Harpo Studios space at 110 N. Carpenter, which they labelled the "Headquarters of Cruelty."

Two separate protest groups lined the sidewalk outside of McDonald's new West Loop headquarters at 11 AM Thursday—the day of the fast-food giant's annual shareholders' meeting.

As a handful of Chicago cops and a cluster of curious pedestrians watched from behind temporary metal barriers placed in front of the 6,000-square-foot flagship restaurant and corporate offices on Randolph Street, ten people representing the grassroots Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund demanded that the company use antibiotics-free beef.

Meanwhile, 15 members of various animal rights groups and volunteers (one dressed as a creepy Ronald McDonald and another in a diseased chicken costume) rallied to complain about the fast-food chain's suppliers' treatment of its poultry. At noon they held a faux ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a Golden Arches-shaped installation of yellow balloons covered in fake blood to christen the massive nine-story building at 110 N. Carpenter as the "Headquarters of Cruelty."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Famous feline Lil' Bub gets her own arcade game—built by Chicago’s Logan Arcade

Posted By on 05.23.18 at 06:38 AM

Mike Bridavsky and Lil' Bub pose with the arcade game Hello Earth at Logan Arcade. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Mike Bridavsky and Lil' Bub pose with the arcade game Hello Earth at Logan Arcade.

It was a long time coming when Logan Arcade owner Jim Zespy followed music producer Steve Albini onstage to introduce the arcade cabinet he'd constructed for a video game starring his friend's famous cat.

"I've known Mike for a long time. I never thought I'd be running an arcade and he'd have a world-famous cat," Zespy said to a crowd of several hundred fans who'd crowded into his arcade bar in Logan Square last Friday night for the game's premiere party.

That's Mike as in Mike Bridavsky, the owner of sound studio Russian Recording, in Bloomington, Indiana, who's famous for being the "dude" behind Internet star Lil' Bub, a rescue cat he adopted in 2011. Often just called "Bub" for short, she was born with dwarfism and other genetic disorders that led to her compact size and unusual but adorable appearance: oversize, saucer-shaped eyes and a pink tongue that continuously protrudes because of her toothlessness and underdeveloped jaw.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

These photos are cuter than any picture you'll take on Mother's Day

Posted By on 05.12.18 at 01:25 PM

A Mexican gray wolf and her two puppies at Brookfield Zoo - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • A Mexican gray wolf and her two puppies at Brookfield Zoo

In honor of Mother's Day, here's a roundup of the cutest furry, feathered, and finned mothers and their babies in the Chicago area, courtesy of Instagram. 

Need we say more?


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Monday, April 23, 2018

Dog Day brings the best (in show) to Guaranteed Rate Field [PHOTOS]

Posted By on 04.23.18 at 02:29 PM

Dogs and their friends can catch the White Sox play the Mariners tonight.

Known as Dog Day, the game sets aside a few sections at Guaranteed Rate Field for canines, so the Fido-to-human ratio will please you dog lovers. Between innings, you can grab a beer, a hot dog (the sausage), a Cuban burger, or churro ice cream sandwich with your dog, as long as it's on a leash.

The best part about bringing your pooch is that in the event the self-proclaimed sports expert sitting next to you tries to explain the game to you (poorly), you can ask him to repeat everything to your dog. In any case, dogs and their owners can also bone up for the next Dog Day on Monday, September 23, versus the Cleveland Indians.

For more details, visit mlb.com/whitesox. But first, check out our #SoxDog photo gallery below:

#SoxDogs absolutely living their best lives.

A post shared by Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) on

My big dawgs at the ballpark. #slobbersquad #soxdogs

A post shared by Alexa Vaicaitis (@avaicaitis) on

Bark at the Park! 🐶🐾 ⚾🌭️#SoxDogs #soxvsindians #gosox @guinnessworldrecords

A post shared by Miley (@mileythegoldenretriever) on

A post shared by GERALD (GO BLUE)! (@gblanc3) on

SouthPaw and Scooter. #newbestfriends #soxdogs #soxgameday #southpaw #whitesox

A post shared by Darrel Dupit (@darreldupit) on


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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Not-so-happy meals: animal rights group takes on McDonald's in Chicago streets

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 01:19 PM

Demonstrators protested outside a McDonald's in the South Loop on Wednesday.
  • Demonstrators protested outside a McDonald's in the South Loop on Wednesday.

The Humane League isn't lovin' McDonald's treatment of chickens.

Citing "outrageous" animal cruelty, the international (with a local Chicago office) nonprofit launched a public campaign this week that targets the fast-food giant in its own backyard.

"Chicago is McDonald's home city, so we want people here to know what they're up to," says David Coman-Hidy, the Humane League's president.

The campaign began Tuesday with the purchase of dozens of colorful anti-McDonald's ads—slogans include "There's nothing happy about McDonald's Happy Meals"—on benches, buildings, and billboards and in newspapers, among them the New York Times and the Reader. Meanwhile, a truck hauling a supersize six-by-12-foot-high Happy Meal with a diseased chicken's legs sticking out of the packaging was spotted driving around the city.

On Wednesday morning, members of the the Humane League—including a man dressed as Ronald McDonald and a person in a disfigured chicken suit—protested outside the McDonald's in the Loop at 23 S. Clark. The group is busy Thursday with a "virtual reality and 3-D tabling event" in Wicker Park, followed by a "community launch party" at Revolution Brewing (3340 N. Kedzie) later tonight.

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The idea behind the campaign, says Coman-Hidy, is to grab people's attention and pressure McDonald's into "doing the right thing" by implementing higher animal welfare standards for its chicken supply chain.

In October, the Oak Brook-based corporation agreed to new welfare standards for raising and slaughtering the chickens served in its restaurants in the form of food such as McNuggets and McChicken sandwiches. According to Reuters, those guidelines dictate that by 2024 suppliers must improve the amount and brightness of light in chicken houses, provide birds with access to perches that promote natural behavior, and test the well-being of different chicken breeds. But animal activists and organizations like the Humane League say those mandates fall short of commitments made by 100 other restaurants and companies such as Burger King, Sonic, and Subway, and fails to address their biggest concern about chicken production: birds bred to quickly grow to abnormal sizes.

"The most important thing is the the genetics of these birds," says Coman-Hidy. "They've been selectively bred for generations, and they grow unnaturally large at a rapid rate, approximately six times faster than normal chickens. They're killed when they're babies, and they suffer greatly until then. It'd be like a human toddler weighing 660 pounds."

In an e-mailed statement, a McDonald's spokesperson said: "We're committed to sourcing our food and packaging sustainably, including the welfare of the animals in our global supply chain. We believe that our outcome-based approach provides the most comprehensive way forward to measurably improve chicken welfare. We recently announced a Global Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council, a multi-stakeholder group including leading academics and animal health and welfare experts, global suppliers, and NGOs. This group will provide deep expertise, diverse perspectives, and provide recommendations for evolving our chicken welfare and sustainability strategy."

If the campaign is bothering McDonald's, there's no sign of it publicly. The company is asking the media to attend a public ribbon-cutting event at a new upscale location in Wrigleyville on Monday.

McDonald's plans to move into a new $250 million headquarters in the West Loop this year.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Patricia Li Klayman's teddies were way smarter than the average bear

Posted By on 02.05.18 at 09:00 AM

PAUL L. MERIDETH
  • Paul L. Merideth

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

An arctophile is a person who collects teddy bears. The fun fact is courtesy of Heather Kenny's 2006 profile of Patricia Li Klayman, the former frontwoman for the punk band Grand Theft Auto (and member of the Reader ad sales team) who forged a new career for herself as an artist specializing in teddy bears and sock monkeys.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In praise of the acting in Paddington 2

Posted By on 01.31.18 at 04:20 PM

Paddington 2
  • Paddington 2
Sally Hawkins may be winning accolades for her performance in The Shape of Water, though I imagine her work in Paddington 2 (which is also currently playing in wide release) was no less challenging. In both films, Hawkins is called upon to convey an intimate, loving relationship with a nonhuman character and sustain the illusion that an imaginary creation exists in the real world. It’s even possible that the challenge of acting in Paddington 2 was greater than that of acting in Water: whereas the Amphibian Man of the later film was played by an actor in a costume—thereby giving Hawkins someone to act with and react to on set—the title character of Paddington 2 was created largely in post-production with digital effects. (There may have been an actor on set to fill in for Paddington, but I can assume that he looked nothing like the little bear that audiences know and love.) Hawkins and her costars not only sustain the illusion of making Paddington seem real, they make it look easy. In nearly every scene he’s in, the talking bear makes an emotional impact on the human characters around him, and the cast succeeds in making that impact relatable.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

It's snowy owl season, motherfuckers

Posted By on 01.23.18 at 09:00 AM

A snowy owl, coming soon to a lakefront near you - CHARLES KRUPA
  • Charles Krupa
  • A snowy owl, coming soon to a lakefront near you

The Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.


Once upon a time, the Reader ran a regular biweekly column about urban wildlife. It was called Field & Street and was written primarily by Jerry Sullivan. Sullivan, who died in 2000, was associate director for land management with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and a keen and admiring observer of animals in and around Chicago. (His columns were later collected into a book, Hunting for Frogs on Elston, and Other Tales from Field & Street.) He also had a sense of humor about his work. In a 1987 column about butterfly collecting, he wrote:
I also loved the collecting because it gave me a chance to run through the fields waving a butterfly net. There was a time when a fondness for birding was enough to establish your reputation as a true eccentric. But lately, birding has shown signs of becoming rather depressingly mainstream. A couple of months ago, Time magazine discovered it; and the new Life devotes several pages to a review of top birding spots. Bird-watchers are becoming as ordinary as bass fishermen, but a butterfly net is still the mark of a loony.
Sullivan began writing his column in January 1987. January happens to be one of the best times to see a snowy owl in Chicago, and it was a subject he returned to frequently, perhaps anticipating the popularity of snowy owls after Harry Potter adopted Hedwig.

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