A Lake County jury deliberated about four hours Thursday before convicting Diane Eldrup of all charges against her in her animal cruelty trial.
Eldrup, 48, faces up to five years in prison after being convicted of felony animal torture and aggravated cruelty to animals, and a new charge added Thursday at the defense's request, misdemeanor cruelty to animals.
She will also be eligible for probation on all three offenses when she returns to court Oct. 18 for sentencing.
Kildeer police were called Dec. 16 to the former Muddy Paws Dog Rescue on the 24000 block of Rand Road and discovered 30 dogs, three birds and an opossum that officials said all starved to death. Officials called the Deer Park kennel "a death camp for dogs." The animals were found dead amid tons of waste and empty food and water dishes.
In her own testimony Thursday, Eldrup said she failed to care for the animals because she was overwhelmed by financial problems and her collapsing marriage.
Eldrup acknowledged the dogs she received sometime in 2010 from overcrowded shelters in southern Illinois were dying at an alarming rate, but claimed she had done what she could to stop it. Even though she knew the shelter would eventually go into foreclosure because she could no longer pay the mortgage, Eldrup said she took in dogs that were sickly and malnourished when they arrived.
After quarantining the animals for three weeks to treat them for fleas and internal parasites, Eldrup said, she began feeding the dogs the holistic dog food she kept at the shelter.
There were problems right from the start, she said.
"The dogs started to lose weight, so I took them off the holistic food and put them on another diet," Eldrup said. "They started gaining weight, then started losing weight again. It was like a roller-coaster."
She said she turned to nutritionists and other professionals for advice, but could not come up with a permanent solution before those who were assisting her gave up on the project.
Her financial problems forced her and her son to move out of the residence in the fall of 2010, Eldrup said, but she returned to the kennel to feed the dogs once or twice a day.
Then the dogs began to die, and Eldrup said while she was aware that the carcasses were piling up, she was unable to connect with the reality around her.
"I did see the dead dogs, but I had shut down emotionally," Eldrup said. "I would look in the cages every day, and if I couldn't see their eyes, I would just walk straight through; I just shut it out."
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel presented Eldrup with a series of photographs of the emaciated dogs lying dead in their cages and asked her to name the dog and tell the jury when the dog died.
Crying harder as the photo series continued, Eldrup said she could not remember most of the dog's names and could not point to a time when they died.
Mermel positioned a photo of a small black and white dog in a cage and grilled Eldrup.
"How many days, weeks or months did you walk by this dead dog when you fed the other dogs?" Mermel asked. "Can you tell us approximately?"
Slumping slightly in the witness chair, Eldrup replied that she could not.
Mermel also questioned Eldrup's claim that hungry dogs who had lived as scavengers before being brought to the kennel would refuse dog food, but Eldrup held her ground.
"A lot of them don't eat dog food. They have never experienced it," she said. "A lot of dogs do not understand what dog food is."
Assistant State's Attorney Raquel Robles-Eschbach told the jury of seven men and five women in her closing argument to reject what she cast as Eldrup's excuses for her conduct.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the facts of this case are clear," Robles-Eschbach said. "Those animals died horrific deaths and there is no one but you 12 who can give them justice."
Defense attorney John Curnyn of Evanston argued that Eldrup's contention that she was unable to cope with the deteriorating condition of the animals was believable in spite of the graphic photos they saw of the emaciated dogs.
"She cared for them, she took them in when no one else would," Curnyn said. "She did the best she could."
Curnyn argued that prosecutors had failed to prove Eldrup had the intent to harm the animals or increase their suffering required to find her guilty.
He asked the jurors to, if they could not find her not guilty of all charges, to convict her of a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.
"I think that at the end of the day, the worst you can say about Diane was that she was neglectful," Curnyn said.