Credit: Eileen Mesler

“I have never been without a dog for one day in my life. At one point, every time I went out of the house, I found a dog. I want to underscore that I do not dress my three dogs. I will admit to one Yorkie-sized Blackhawks shirt.

“I have one of the nuttiest Yorkies in the world. I found him on the street. He’s got all the signs of being from a puppy mill. Bad knees, bad teeth. His tongue hangs out of the side of his mouth. He runs around the table in circles. His all-time record is 45 minutes. If you say, ‘Bernie, stop it,’ he looks at you and then he goes the other way around the table. He’s like the Sybil of dogs.

“Three and a half years ago, I founded the Puppy Mill Project. Puppy mills are not illegal. They started in the 40s, when farmers were encouraged to go into the puppy business by the USDA. They are classified as agriculture. They are just a cash crop to them. That’s all they are.

“If you go in a pet store and they give you a spiel that ‘No, our dogs aren’t from puppy mills, we use a USDA breeder,’ that’s a red flag. If you buy a dog on the Internet, and they tell you, ‘I’ll bring you the dog, and I’ll meet you in the Red Roof Inn parking lot’—no, no, no, no, no. Why would they do that? Why? Because they don’t want you to see where they came from.

“Recently some police officers found this truck in Pilsen, a truck with Iowa plates parked at seven in the morning in a strip mall. The cops heard barking, and they opened the back, and boom, there were 43 dogs stuffed in cages. No food or water. Can you imagine? I’d have been hospitalized. They thought they had a cruelty charge. Well, the judge ruled it wasn’t cruel enough, so they were given back to the broker.

“I can remember crying on the streets when I was three, seeing a dog and wanting to take it home. I remember my mother saying, ‘You can’t take them all.’ I used to say to her, ‘Why? Why can’t I take them all?’ And I still say it. Why? Why can’t I save them all? I can try.”