Remembering 2019's top animal stories
In a perfect world, animal stories are supposed to make you smile. And most of them do. But, tragically, not all.
This was a year when a kennel fire near Carol Stream killed at least 30 dogs and revealed conditions that made even jaded law enforcement officials cringe. It was a year when 10 dogs were found in their own filth in a Vernon Hills home and when two separate dog attacks forced East Dundee officials to tighten their regulations. Excessive heat killed hundreds of fish in a Lombard pond and a barn fire near Burlington killed a number of chickens.
Happily, there was some good news, too. Endangered Blanding's turtles were released in both Lake and DuPage counties. A severely burned horse was nursed back to health and won a blue ribbon. A stolen puppy named Ralph was returned safe and sound. A python was rescued from an Elgin garage. Two Aurora cops came to the aid of a skunk with its head stuck in a McDonald's ice cream cup. And a 12-year-old boy visiting his grandparents in Arlington Heights used a lacrosse stick to help rescue some ducklings who had fallen into a sewer.
Here's a look at some of the year's top animal stories ...
Charges in kennel fire:
Garrett Mercado, operator of The Bully Life Animal Services, formerly known as D & D Kennels, is charged with 28 misdemeanors -- 14 counts of animal cruelty and 14 counts of violation of owner's duties -- stemming from a Jan. 14 blaze at the Carol Stream-area kennel. Nearly 30 dogs perish. Investigators determine the kennel housed at least 58 dogs, many of which were mistreated, inappropriately tethered, placed in cages that were too small, or kept in crates stacked on top of one another. The deteriorating building off County Farm Road also lacked fire prevention safety measures, DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin says, and no one was on-site to supervise the dogs when the fire broke out.
A birders' paradise:
A 1.6-mile grass loop birding trail opens to the public in late August as the final piece of an extensive improvement at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve along Lake Michigan. The restored trail is located on what had been the airstrip on the former Army base, which operated from 1887 to 1993 near Lake Forest. An estimated 236 species of birds have been seen in the area, which is considered an important habitat for resident and migratory birds.
10 dogs removed from home:
Ten dogs are removed in March from a Vernon Hills home after police serving a search warrant on an unrelated matter detect a strong odor of urine and find animal feces throughout the house. The dogs are taken into custody by Lake County Animal Care and Control and the occupant is charged with several drug offenses in connection with the warrant. Another occupant faces violations of "animal owner's duties" in a subsequent investigation.
Python rescued from garage:
Two Elgin police officers -- Jordan Collins and Chad Benavidez -- act as an impromptu animal rescue team to remove a 4-foot python from the garage workbench of an Elgin home. No one is quite sure how the snake got there, but police say it was behind a welder and partly wrapped around the pistons of a miter box. Police took the creature to Golf Rose Animal Services in Schaumburg.
8 ducklings rescued from sewer:
Nathaniel Bray, an enterprising 12-year-old boy from Pennsylvania who was visiting his grandparents in Arlington Heights, helps rescue eight ducklings that fell into a sewer. Nathaniel uses his hands to get the first two ducklings out, and his lacrosse stick to get four more. He then works as a team with an animal welfare officer to rescue the remaining ducklings, all of whom are reunited with their worried mother.
Backyard chickens allowed:
After months of deliberations, things turn out sunny-side up for supporters of chickens in Rolling Meadows in September, when the city council votes 4-3 to permit the egg-laying backyard birds on up to 25 single-family residential lots citywide. For an annual $25 fee, homeowners will be able to have as many as six chickens -- hens, not roosters -- in backyard coops kept at least 10 feet away from lot lines.
Turtle release I:
With the assistance of college veterinary students, the Lake County Forest Preserve District in May celebrates World Turtle Day by releasing 91 Blanding's turtles hatchlings into a marshy area. Blanding's turtles in 2009 were designated as endangered in Illinois due to habitat loss, increased pressure from predators and poaching, which is why the release locations, which vary every year, are kept secret.
Turtle release II:
The Shedd Aquarium and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County join forces to release 23 Blanding's turtles into their desired habitats in western DuPage County. The Shedd team raised the endangered turtles from hatchlings to prepare them for their release into the wild.
Animal shelter floods:
A two-day deep freeze in late January triggers problems at Naperville's ADOPT animal shelter. Two heating units malfunction, causing temperatures in the facility to drop into the 40s, and then a pipe bursts, causing flooding in a mechanical room. The issues lead to later renovations to repair the damage.
East Dundee animal control:
Two separate dog attacks push East Dundee officials to tighten their animal control regulations. The village board updates its codes to clarify the definition of an animal enclosure and also adds a provision enabling the removal of a dog or other animal that has been deemed vicious.
Stolen puppy returned:
An English bulldog puppy named Ralph is returned to the Furry Babies pet store in Aurora's Fox Valley Mall after being stolen a day earlier. Employees tell police the dog is valued at $7,600.
Rescuing a skunk:
Two Aurora police officers discover a skunk roaming the streets with its head stuck in a McDonald's ice cream cup. Officer Jonathan Olsen successfully pulls the cup off the skunk's head while his lieutenant, Steven Stemmet, takes video on his phone -- well out of range of any stinky spray.
The Elmhurst Animal Care Center welcomes roughly 75 dogs rescued from slaughter in South Korea. Shelter and rescue groups from across the Midwest arrive to pick up the dogs for rehab and adoption.
A true fish story:
The quick thinking of some fellow fishermen helps save Ramon Garchitorena of Forest Park from drowning at Silver Lake in Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville. Garchitorena is fishing from the shore when he loses his lure and slips while trying to retrieve it on the south end of the lake. Tyler Line is fishing nearby and drags Garchitorena back to shore and performs CPR. Two other anglers call 911.
New adoption center for senior pets:
A unique shelter and adoption center -- designed exclusively for older dogs and cats -- opens in Woodstock to a capacity crowd. Young At Heart Adoption Center rescues dogs and cats over the age of 7, but the average age is 10. "There are no cages here," says executive director Dawn Kemper. "There are couches, not cages. Everything has been designed to make it feel like a home for these pets."
Fish kill in Lombard:
Hundreds of dead fish are removed from the Lombard Lagoon after officials say scorching heat and the shallowness of the pond combine to deny the creatures the necessary oxygen.
Vet program expands:
A regional veterinary science program at Central High School near Burlington -- the first of its kind in the state -- sees a surge in enrollment as more Kane County high school districts join. Burlington-based Central Unit District 301 launched the state's first comprehensive veterinary science program at the high school level last school year to help address a statewide shortage of veterinary assistants.
Fire destroys barn:
No people or horses are harmed -- but some chickens are killed -- in a fire that destroys a barn near Burlington. The structure is deemed a total loss, but all of the horses are rescued.
Cruelty to dog charged:
An Aurora woman, Krystle Noriega, is charged with felony cruelty to animals after leaving her pit bull tied to a pole outside her house on a sweltering day with no water and no shade, authorities say. A neighbor calls Aurora Animal Control and Care.
Teen nurses horse to ribbon:
Avery Carlson, 18, has rescued 20 horses bound for slaughter, including Emma, a severely burned horse she rescued from a kill pen in Oklahoma in 2017. With the help of her father, veterinarian Jim Carlson of Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center in McHenry, she nurses Emma back to health and notices she is a smart horse that needs to stay engaged to thrive. So Carlson starts training Emma to compete, leading to the scarred and once seemingly doomed horse scoring a blue ribbon at her first horse show, Pepper's Legacy Horse Show in Harvard.
Stories of comfort dogs:
Author John Schlimm and photographer Liz Stavrinides launch their book titled "Extraordinary Dogs" at the Lutheran Church Charities headquarters in Northbrook before embarking on a national tour. The book recounts the work of more than 50 working dogs from across the United States, including 20 local golden retrievers from Lutheran Church Charities. In the books, handlers from Lutheran Church Charities describe some of the many "ministry moments" from their crisis and disaster deployments, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Superstorm Sandy, and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Naperville shelter expansion:
A plan to more than double its space is in the works for the Naperville Area Humane Society after nearly 40 years in its 3,000-square-foot location. Shelter officials gain approval from the city council for a 4,000-square-foot addition, which they anticipate will be complete by late next year.
Mural promotes pet adoption:
An artist who walked into the Dog Patch Pet & Feed store in Naperville at the right moment soon got to be the painter of a mural on the building's eastern wall promoting pet adoption. Janson Rapisarda of Cera Street Art finishes spray-painting the 50-foot-wide image of a cat and a dog chasing a blue ball in front of a flag that says "ADOPT" in late summer.
County fair winner:
James Bend earns the grand champion prize for his lamb on opening day of the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. The honor for the 9-year-old boy, who has autism, makes his mom and even the judge tear up. James is thriving from the therapeutic routine of caring for animals at his family's DeKalb County farm, his mom says.