Just over a year ago, Kathy Drelicharz helped Muddy Paws Dog Rescue in a drive with other shelters to restock pantries with pet food and supplies to help struggling families overwhelmed by the poor economy.
Now, the same purported Deer Park no-kill shelter for which she said she collected about 2,000 pounds of donated dog food is being described by a Lake County prosecutor as a former death camp for canines.
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Lake County prosecutors said the bodies of 20 dogs, three birds and an opossum were recovered during a five-hour operation Thursday at Muddy Paws off Rand Road. Authorities said the dogs and birds died from neglect and starvation.
Muddy Paws operator Diane Eldrup, 48, is charged with 32 counts of animal cruelty. She has been freed from Lake County jail on 10 percent of a $250,000 bond provided by Algonquin resident John Breseman, records show.
Drelicharz said Friday she never had any suspicions about Eldrup, who was arrested by Kildeer police Dec. 17. She speculated Eldrup may have been under stress from divorce proceedings.
"I know she loved the dogs," Drelicharz said. "I don't know why this happened."
In early November 2009, Muddy Paws directed some donors to leave the dog food outside the building if no one was there to accept it during the drive that ran for about a week.
Drelicharz, who called herself Muddy Paws' head fundraiser last year, said Eldrup never allowed her near the animals.
Barrington facilities Fur Keeps Animal Shelter and Aid to Animals Rescue collaborated on the food drive with Muddy Paws. The presidents of those nonprofit groups didn't return messages seeking comment Friday.
At least 5 tons to 10 tons of dog excrement was found in plastic bags stored in Muddy Paws' garage fronting Rand Road, officials said. Investigators were to examine 10 sample bags on the belief dogs were buried in the feces, said Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Mermel.
Kildeer police, who patrol Deer Park, arrested Eldrup after her estranged husband reported he found dead dogs on the property where she lived with the couple's 8-year-old boy. Mermel said it's not known when the neglect began.
Authorities said Kurt Eldrup had been barred from the Deer Park property by an order of protection, but received court permission to enter the living quarters to retrieve some belongings.
Pet shelters such as Muddy Paws are licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Muddy Paws isn't listed in the most recent agriculture department online database of licensed shelters. Officials were not available for comment Friday.
It is included among 94 viable animal shelters and rescue groups in a Chicago-area pet magazine's January, 2011 edition.
Several dog carcasses were found on the floor and hidden in mattresses inside Muddy Paws' living area. Six of the recovered dogs will undergo animal autopsies, known as necropsies. Authorities said the necropsies may show cause of death and how long ago they perished.
Photographs shot by investigators show some of the deceased dogs were curled next to food bowls with visible bite marks. Mermel said it's believed some of the dogs became so hungry they ate dead canines.
Images also showed the 8-year-old boy's bed and toys were not far from a refrigerator containing food and dead maggots. Trash and feces were scattered across the living area.
At one time, the facility was called Muddy Paws Boarding-Grooming and Full-Service Dog Wash, but it's unclear when it became a shelter. Drelicharz said she massaged dogs at Muddy Paws before it switched to a rescue operation.