All in for animal rights
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent April 8, 2013 1:58PM
Teresa Chiletz of Joliet advocates for companion animals by following a vegan diet, adopting a variety of pets and participating in protests. | SUBMITTED PHOTO
Updated: May 10, 2013 6:02AM
Teresa Chiletz, 40, of Joliet, participates in pet-store protests, refuses to wear fur or leather and follows a 100 percent vegan diet.
Chiletz owns two dogs and rabbits and one cat, hamster, mouse and fish, all adopted. She also serves on the board of directors for Joliet’s Cat Overpopulation Planned Endeavor, or COPE, and volunteers for the Midwest chapter of Companion Animal Protection Society, or CAPS.
Each of these actions reflects Chiletz’s commitment to animal rights and educating others regarding the atrocities animals endure for the sake of food, fashion and breeding.
“Animals have no voice,” Chiletz said, “so they need people to speak out. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Chiletz first became involved with advocating for animals in the mid-1990s as a volunteer at the Will County Humane Society in Shorewood.
Around the same time, Chiletz learned of the dreadful conditions under which animals are raised to be processed into food, clothing and pets.
At first, Chiletz stopped eating meat, but as she grew in knowledge Chiletz embraced a vegan lifestyle. This meant shunning all clothing or eating any food made from animal products, which Chiletz has done for 12 years. Chiletz also does not attend events that are potentially cruel to animals, such as the circus.
“I do what I can,” Chiletz said. “It’s hard to avoid animal products a hundred percent. The clothing part was easy. The diet is a little harder.”
Cheese was difficult to give up and one of the last banished items. Today, Chiletz prepares vegan waffles for breakfast, an analog turkey sandwich for lunch and pasta and salad for dinner. Unlike many vegetarians, Chiletz doesn’t eat much fruit and works to add raw vegetables to her routine.
In the meantime, Chiletz became a savvy label reader. For instance, gelatin is often found in candy and casein and whey in many soy cheese products for its melting capabilities. Some vegans prefer to avoid honey.
“I’ve educated a lot of people and inspired them to make a change, too,” Chiletz said.
With so many commercial vegan foods now available, Chiletz feels one of the biggest challenges with that diet is avoiding the junk food. For every “regular” food one might enjoy, a vegan counterpart exists: cookies, ice cream and meat analogs, including “beef” tips, lunch “meat,” bologna, hot dogs and veggie “burgers.”
Although some vegans assume a vegan diet for their pets, too, Chiletz does feed her animals meat, even though she concedes that dogs, being omnivores, could make the switch. Chiletz does believe, however, that cats, as true carnivores, absolutely require meat for optimal health.
“Animals don’t know how to make that choice,” Chiletz said, “but people can.”
However, Chiletz’s pets — even the cats, hamsters and mice — cohabit nicely together. For added protection, the rodents do live in the basement. Still, when playing together outside, the cat and rabbits are safe.
“They just sniff each other and jump away,” Chiletz said.
Over the past 10 years, Chiletz gradually became involved with animal activism. Two years ago, Chiletz received an opportunity to protest a pet store through CAPS and she has been volunteering with the organization ever since.
The Chicago campaign stages about two protests a month, mostly in the southwest suburbs; Chiletz tries to attend at least one of them, as she and 11 other volunteers did on Jan. 12 on Mall Loop Drive in Joliet.
According to its website, CAPS is the only national nonprofit dedicated exclusively to protecting companion animals, focusing on ending abuse these animals suffer as pet shop and puppy mill dogs.
CAPS defines a puppy mill as a “commercial breeding facility that mass-produces puppies for resale through pet shops or individuals.”
Since its inception in 1992, CAPS has worked toward its goal through investigations, education, media relations, legislative involvement, puppy mill dog rescues, consumer assistance and pet industry employee relations. CAPS’ efforts, Chiletz feels, are working.
“Most people don’t realize what happens with pet stores,” Chiletz said, “and many people will go to shelters for their pets after talking with us.”
Chiletz will continue attending demonstrations; she hopes more people will become involved.
For more information, contact Chicago campaign coordinator Ida McCarthy at 630-479-4673 and visit www.CAPS-web.org