Likening Diane Eldrup's actions to running a concentration camp for dogs, a Lake County judge ordered the former Muddy Paws Dog Rescue owner to spend the next 30 months behind bars.
"Why would she rescue them to death?" Judge James Booras asked Tuesday before sentencing Eldrup in her animal cruelty case. "It's beyond human comprehension."
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Eldrup, 48, was sentenced to what Booras dubbed periodic imprisonment, meaning she'll be housed in a Lake County facility but allowed to leave for work, court appearances, counseling and visits with her 9-year-old son. She was immediately taken into custody and must serve the entire 2½-year-term.
Booras said he felt incarceration was necessary to protect the public and deter others, but added that he thinks she can be rehabilitated and doesn't want to separate the boy from his mother.
A jury last month convicted Eldrup of felony animal torture and aggravated cruelty, as well as misdemeanor cruelty to animals.
On Dec. 16, Kildeer police found 30 dogs, three birds and an opossum dead at the former Muddy Paws Dog Rescue on the 24000 block of Rand Road.
Tons of waste and empty food and water dishes were strewed throughout the former Deer Park kennel, which has since been destroyed.
Her voice breaking and head hung low as she briefly addressed the court, Eldrup said Tuesday that she was truly sorry and remorseful. She said she didn't deny any guilt, but blamed her actions on her "abusive" estranged husband.
Kurt Eldrup, who's in divorce proceedings with Diane Eldrup and was at her sentencing on Tuesday, denied he was ever abusive in their marriage. He added he has temporary custody of their son.
"What she did was inhuman, but I'm hopeful she'll get the help he needs," he said. "I tried to help her."
Eldrup's sentence is the harshest for animal abuse in the history of Lake County, according to prosecutors. They argued she chose to take in the dogs, not ask for help despite her financial hardship and then hide the carnage. They also pointed to earlier statements she made about resenting the dogs for ruining her life.
"This was not a rescue, it was a torture camp for animals and the defendant was the prison guard," Assistant State's Attorney Suzanne Willett said.
Before the hearing began, a deputy warned about a dozen animal rights supporters that no disruptions or outbursts, including "hissing," would be tolerated. During last month's trial, a woman apparently became ill while a videotape showing the kennel conditions played in court.
The prosecution called four witnesses to the stand, including Cindy Williams, an animal control officer with Lake County who helped collect carcasses and comb through the scene last December.
She described several photographs showing animals in various states of decomposition, frozen skeletons in crates, and hair and bones tangled with filthy blankets. One of the victims was a chihuahua named Lucha, which Eldrup got from a rescue organization to give to her son. Microchips implanted in several of the animals showed Eldrup as their registered owner.
Of the four dogs and two cats found alive and taken to an animal shelter, Williams said one gained 15 pounds and another 9 pounds in just 12 days by giving them food and water.
Animal Education and Rescue Executive Director Sandy Wisniewski said the survivors have been adopted and now are spoiled and thriving.
"I think this was an absolutely perfect sentence because it allows (Eldrup) to receive the therapy she needs, yet holds her accountable," Wisniewski said.
Another of the state's witnesses talked about the final time he boarded a pet at Muddy Paws. Earl Feldman said that in the 12 days pit bull Rocky stayed with Eldrup, the dog lost 23 pounds and developed 11 open wounds, resulting in $7,000 in veterinarian bills.
"He looked like he'd just been hung out to dry," Feldman said.
A jury deliberated for about four hours last month before convicting Eldrup.
Defense attorney John Curnyn argued that no one can be sure how any of the animals died other than the handful that had necropsies showing starvation as the cause.
Afterward, he said he was pleased by the sentence because it allows Eldrup to continue a relationship with her son, though he still plans to file an appeal.
"I truly believe she has psychology issues that need to be dealt with," Curnyn said. "She was not seeing the world through the lenses of a normal person."
A hearing to decide restitution is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 21. Judge Booras could order a portion of the $25,000 cash bond Eldrup posted be used to offset various agencies' expenses.