When Kane County Animal Control Director Robert Sauceda stood to address volunteers who were going to move neglected animals to safety Tuesday morning, he got a little teary-eyed.
"It means so much to us as the county and the staff. I did not think I would get so emotional," he told the crowd in the office of the county shelter in Geneva.
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An estimated 90-plus people turned out to help move horses and other animals from the Mini Zoo Crew Petting Zoo off the Hampshire farm where they lived to new, temporary homes in Maple Park.
Kane County authorities discovered 10 dead animals on the Hampshire farm last week.
The helpers showed up, on less than a day's notice, to do whatever they could to get the animals to better places and in better shape.
Many of the volunteers were from rescue groups such as Field of Dreams horse rescue and Stardust Sanctuary. Sauceda told the crowd he was relying on their expertise to "help keep the animals calm, cool and collected" in what he called a "fluid situation."
Approximately 84 animals were to be moved to two farms and a stable in Maple Park. The county is not disclosing the locations. One place took rabbits and fowl. Another took the goats, a llama, alpacas and some of the horses. And the pregnant horses and a horse with a severe tooth abscess were taken to a stable that has an indoor arena, so they won't be out in the elements.
The farm and stable owners are donating their spaces.
Campton Hills Village Trustee Al Lenkaitis, a dairy farmer, was there to lend a hand. "It's just another way to help out," he said. " ... That's just kind of normal in the farm community."
Lenkaitis helped move animals from the barns to the end of the driveway, where they were loaded on to trailers. He and one of his employees drove the llama and three alpacas. The property's owner did not allow reporters back by the barns and enclosures.
Asked about the conditions of the facility, Lenkaitis simply said, "It could be better."
First to load Tuesday were the goats. Some were in decent shape, but not a billy goat, estimated at 10 to 12 years old. Sarah Yakle of Maple Park, who owns goats, pointed out how thin he was. "I can put my fingers through his rib cage," she said. Despite that, she said, the goat was friendly and well-behaved, eating treats from her hand and kissing her face. The goats were carried down the driveway, not because of their health, but because they weren't on halters and as such, couldn't be controlled.
Llamas and alpacas calmly went next, then horses, a miniature donkey and miniature horses. Volunteers educated Sauceda and his staff, pointing out that horses that hadn't been housed in the same barn should not be moved in the same trailer, as they might get aggressive and hurt each other.
One horse refused to get into a trailer, despite being enticed with treats, until he saw a friend, a miniature donkey, lifted first into the trailer.
Some of the goats bleated as they were carried, and some of the horses whinnied nervously and stamped around, but none required tranquilization to calm them down.
The turkeys, chickens, ducks and rabbits left last, in pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
While they were waiting in line to load animals, volunteers talked about why the owner hadn't sought help. They pointed out overgrown hoofs, and protruding ribs and hip bones, on horses; mite and mange damage on the goats; and distended bellies on horses that they suspected indicated they had worms.
Kane County's sheriff's department, office of emergency management, and Elgin community service officers helped coordinate the move, including directing traffic and blocking Route 20.
While volunteers were loading animals in Hampshire, county workers were erecting three-sided structures at the Maple Park farm to protect the goats from inclement weather.
The animals were impounded last week on the order of the state veterinarian, and criminal charges have been brought against the zoo's owner, Stacy Fiebelkorn of Elgin. She is accused of animal cruelty and failure to provide adequate food, shelter and care. The Kane County state's attorney also filed a motion for impoundment Monday, and a motion to move Fiebelkorn's first court date up. She is due to appear at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Kane County Branch Court in St. Charles.
Fiebelkorn rented space on the Hampshire farm. The owner initially agreed to let Kane County keep the animals on the farm, but notified authorities Monday that he wanted the animals removed that day. He was persuaded to wait until Tuesday, said Kane County Health Department Executive Director Barbara Jeffers.
Jeffers was moved by the support Animal Control has been receiving. People and businesses have been donating hay, feed, other supplies and veterinary care, she said. She was also amazed at how fast word spread, especially on social media, once the county put the word out Monday afternoon. She said Animal Control's Facebook page has had 50,000 visits since the investigation was announced.
"It just goes to show the commitment of this community when there is a need," Jeffers said.