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updated: 4/21/2014 12:38 PM

Arlington Heights girls' puppy mill bill passes House

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  • Video: Students against puppy mills

  • Left to right, Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.

       Left to right, Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.

       Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Left to right, Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.

       Left to right, Patton School third graders Claire Hackmann, 8, Maddie O'Dell, 9, and Brooke Martin, 8, talk about their recent presentation before the Illinois State Legislature urging members to pass a bill outlawing puppy mills in Illinois.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 

A group of girls from Patton Elementary School in Arlington Heights may seem like any other third graders, but don't be fooled.

This month, they've taken on the role of lobbyists and they are taking the state Legislature by storm.

Just last week, Claire Hackmann, Maddie O'Dell and Brooke Martin, all of Arlington Heights, wrote to State Sen. Pam Althoff. She will be sponsoring a bill -- originally written by State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights -- before the Illinois State Senate. It has already passed the House.

Their issue? Banning puppy mills and putting some teeth into the penalties for offenders.

It started out innocently enough, when the girls read the book, "Chewy and Chica," by Ellen Miles. It tells the story of two students who rescue Chihuahua puppies from a puppy mill, which prompted the girls to research just what puppy mills were.

"We learned that puppy mills are really bad places," says Maddie, as her friends describe the conditions and treatment of puppies churned out by some large-scale breeders supplying the retail market. "From there, we dug deeper."

They approached their school librarian, Idelle Melamed, with ideas on what they could do to put an end to puppy mills.

"They wanted to write to President Obama," Melamed said. "I suggested they stay more local, and write to our local representatives."

Consequently, they wrote to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky and to Harris, who was so impressed with their letter, he introduced House Bill 4410, which doubles the penalty for the mistreatment of animals that occurs at places like puppy mills.

His bill came after the city of Chicago banned puppy mills and before Cook County officials adopted the same measure. The girls are hoping for a statewide crackdown.

Harris advised the third graders to gather more support for the bill, which he thought might help advance their case in Springfield.

The girls sprung into action. Gaining approval from their principal, Eric Olson, they made a presentation to their classmates at an all-school assembly and to members of the faculty.

Next, they gathered signatures on posters they made at a school movie night and later at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. They also appeared before members of the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board.

Their biggest date was yet to come. Late last month, Harris invited the girls to come to Springfield and testify in person before the House Agriculture Committee, which they did.

"They did just an outstanding job," Harris said. "I think it was a wonderful educational experience for them. The girls had their testimony well-rehearsed, and they gave it flawlessly."

Before they testified, they were introduced to the floor of the General Assembly. They also had to fill out official witness slips before making their passionate plea before the 14 members of the committee.

"The bill passed unanimously," Claire says proudly.

Then on March 27, the bill passed the full House in a vote of 104 to 6.

They're not done yet. As they wait for the bill to come before the Senate, the girls are continuing to raise awareness. They have a website, which they update regularly at sites.google.com/a/student.sd25.org/stop-puppy-mills.

All of which has their teachers, administrators and parents quite proud. But Maddie's mother, Mary Beth O'Dell voiced a concern that all three families share.

"Now, that they've done all this research on the treatment of puppies," O'Dell said, "we're getting hard-core pressure to get a dog."

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