Operator of kennel destroyed in fire sentenced to jail for cruelty, neglect
The operator of a West Chicago-area kennel where 29 dogs died as a result of a fire was sentenced Tuesday to 20 days in jail for animal cruelty and neglect.
And Garrett Mercado, 32, of Woodridge, will be allowed to have one pet dog, but no other companion animals for six years, DuPage County Judge Robert Miller said.
Miller convicted Mercado in October of three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and six misdemeanor counts of failure to perform owner's duties.
One dog was kept in a cage so small she could not stand up or turn around. Another dog, Magoo, lost 11 pounds, becoming emaciated, during a five-week stay at the kennel. Koko, who died in the January 2019 fire, was tethered too tightly to a bathtub.
Prosecutors had asked Miller to ban Mercado from owning dogs for the rest of his life, but Miller said he did not believe he could do that on a misdemeanor case.
"I think it (the sentence) was horrible. The judge did the best he could. I think our laws are very, very poorly constructed," Mary Beth Grant of Palatine, a member of a rescue organization that lost dogs in the fire, said after the hearing.
Mercado's attorney, Harry Smith, said Mercado had a reputation for being able to train hard-to-manage dogs, and that's why some rescue groups housed dogs with him.
Smith said Mercado became overwhelmed by the needs of the dogs. Authorities estimated the kennel housed 56 dogs at the time of the fire.
"I think Mr. Mercado lost the ability to achieve best practices (for operating a kennel) because he would not turn anyone away," Smith said.
Mercado told the judge he is studying psychology and business and undergoing therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
"You have to be able to see that those who attempt to do good still have flaws," Mercado said.
When Miller asked him what his career plan is, Mercado said he wants to manage a sanctuary for dogs, to teach them to help people with PTSD. "It would be a phenomenal asset to the community," Mercado said.
Miller acknowledged that once Mercado has completed his sentence, he could go back to having dozens of dogs. "There's really not much the court can do about it," Miller said.
Mercado could have been sentenced to up to six months in jail.
Besides the jail time, Mercado will have to serve four years of conditional discharge and two years of probation. He will also have to perform 100 hours of community service.