Lisa Spakowski has devoted herself to helping dogs suffering from Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
But if the 48-year-old Wood Dale resident can't find new homes for some of the five ailing dogs in her care, she might have to make a very difficult decision.
"I may have to euthanize two dogs," Spakowski said. "It's a nightmare having to think about killing dogs that trust me -- dogs that feel safe here."
Spakowski is in the situation because Wood Dale officials, responding to complaints from neighbors, learned in August that she was harboring at least 10 dogs in her house. Officials say it's illegal in Wood Dale to have more than three dogs in a residence.
As the founder and president of Illinois Birddog Rescue, Spakowski points out she's licensed by the state to keep foster dogs at her home. Furthermore, she showed the Daily Herald a letter she received last year from a city code enforcement officer that said seven dogs would be the limit because she has a license.
But Patrick Bond, Wood Dale's city attorney, says local zoning laws prohibit animal shelters, kennels or animal hospitals from being in residential areas. And, there, he said, the applicable limit still would be three dogs.
"If you're going to have (a kennel), usually you'll have it in town or somewhere else," Bond said. "You don't have it in a residentially zoned district."
Now Wood Dale has asked a DuPage County judge to decide whether Spakowski has violated city law. The case is set for trial Tuesday.
If the judge sides with the city, Spakowski could be fined up to $750. More significantly, the city could then seek to impose daily fines on Spakowski until she reduces the number of dogs in her home to three.
"If she wants to maintain a rescue or kennel, we do have another one in town," Bond said. "All she has to do is have it located in the proper zoning classification."
Relocating the rescue operation she started more than 12 years ago isn't an option, Spakowskisaid. The nonprofit's limited financial resources are used to feed and provide medical care for the rescued dogs.
The city notified Spakowski in August after neighbors complained about dogs barking and getting out of the yard.
"The city went over there and found out that she had multiple dogs," Bond said. "And she acknowledged that she had far in excess of three."
Spakowski says her organization has nine licensed foster homes in Illinois. But because of unforeseen circumstances, she was forced in August to keep more dogs than usual at her home. She has since reduced the number of dogs to five.
Of the dogs that remain, three of them -- Buckwheat, 11, Gavin, 3, and Lani, 11 -- are Spakowski's pets.
And attempts to find new homes for the two other dogs have been unsuccessful.
Dantes, a 12-year-old English setter, has Lyme disease and other ailments. Boonie, a 10-year-old English pointer, has Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
"It's hard enough for me to place puppies with known tick-borne diseases," Spakowski said. "It's nearly impossible to find homes for senior dogs."
Carrie Williams, a Fox River Grove resident who adopted her dog from Illinois Birddog Rescue about eight years ago, has written letters supporting Spakowski. Williams says moving any of the dogs to a shelter isn't an answer.
"The reason they are there is because they can't make it in a shelter," she said.
The work Spakowski is doing, Williams said, is special because she gets the dogs the medications they need. "She has been able to work with a lot of these dogs to turn them around," she said.
Spakowski said she knew she could be fined because of the August complaint. But, she said, she never thought she would face the possibility of having to kill any dogs.
"I don't want to have to euthanize dogs that just lay around and do nothing all day," Spakowski said. "They are not a nuisance. They are not bothering anybody."
Wood Dale officials say Spakowski's efforts to rescue animals are admirable. But now that they know she's keeping more dogs than the city allows, they need to enforce the law.
"I'm a dog lover myself," Bond said. "Somebody should take care of these sick animals. You just don't do it out of your house."