Top animal stories of 2021: A look back at some of the four-legged suburban residents that made headlines
The animal story that may have gotten the most attention this year was, unfortunately, a sad one.
Ludwig -- an Argentine Dogo -- was shot to death in August by the husband of the president of Wayne, the small suburb that crosses the DuPage-Kane county line.
Some residents of the town, and many people elsewhere, were upset, posting signs calling for "Justice for Ludwig," urging authorities to prosecute the man. But Kane County authorities -- who investigated the case at the request of the Wayne Police Department -- declined to file charges. They said it was clear the dog was on the man's property without permission. The man alleged the dog had attacked him on his property earlier in the summer, and that in August the dog and another dog were menacing him and he shot in self-defense. The dog's owner continues to dispute this.
Other suburban animal stories that made headlines in 2021 included:
Neckwear nuisance mostly gone from Freddy the Fox: Good parenting has apparently paid off for a red fox that got an eight-inch plastic drain pipe stuck around his neck more than a year ago. Nicknamed Freddy by Bartlett residents keeping an eye out for him, the fox's accessory is barely noticeable these days.
That's likely thanks to some playtime with his offspring over the past few months.
"It's down to a tiny, little sliver of green," said Vicki Weiland, director of Kane Area Rehabilitation and Education for Wildlife. "We think it's mostly gone from his pups jumping on him and chewing at it."
Never much of a hindrance for Freddy, the flexible drain pipe around his neck simply made him more noticeable, wildlife experts explained earlier this year.
Attempts to trap Freddy in an effort to help him remove the drain pipe were fruitless, and now that the pipe has all but disintegrated, there are no plans to try again to capture him.
"It's barely even the size of a collar," said Larry Paxson, a Bartlett resident who created the "Find Freddy the Fox" Facebook page. "It's more like a necklace. It's so unobtrusive at this point we don't think there's a need to try and help get it off anymore."
No bull about report of cow on Randall Road: There was a lot at stake (or would that be steak?) when Elgin police Lt. Jim Roscher got a call Nov. 30 about a cow loose on Randall Road. The wayward bovine got free from a trailer on Randall north of Hopps Road and was first reported to police as it walked between cars about 11:30 a.m. in the northbound lanes on Randall near Walmart.
"It was backing up traffic because no one wanted to drive around it," Roscher said. "Then we heard it was by the car wash, then it went northbound, then southbound. It was everywhere."
The unnamed bull quickly became a local online celebrity with myriad social media posts from people who saw him on his adventure. Eventually, the bovine was recaptured and returned to its owner.
"I've been doing this for 26 years, so I've got lots of stories, but it's the first time I ever had to chase a bull around," Roscher said.
Former Palatine dogs euthanized: An American pit bull and an Akita mix that had been kicked out of Palatine for being aggressive were then euthanized in September. The dogs belonged to former Palatine resident Meleina Teodoro and had attacked people and their dogs -- one of whom died -- in Palatine and Elmwood Park in May and August, respectively. Teodoro was ordered to remove her dogs from the village, enroll them in a training program and pay $850 in fines and court costs as a condition of her guilty plea to eight ordinance violations. In September, they attacked a man who was walking his dog in Elmwood Park, which is what led to their euthanization. One of the victims filed a lawsuit accusing Palatine of negligence for not ordering the dogs euthanized after their first attack.
Zebras escape Goebbert's in Pingree Grove: In early October, Kane County sheriff's deputies were dispatched to Route 47 and Reinking Road for a report of zebras in the roadway. The animals -- a young male and female -- had mysteriously escaped from a pen inside an indoor zoo at Goebbert's Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard. They then snuck out the rear doors of the building, according to Jacob Goebbert, who said Goebbert's doesn't own the animals, which are supplied by another business. The zebras crossed Route 47 several times and wandered north, through farm fields, to Big Timber Road.
"We're used to (loose) cows, horses, all kinds of livestock. We've had emus -- emus! -- over the years, because there is an emu farm up that way," Kane County Undersheriff Pat Gengler said. But zebras were a first. "How do we catch zebras? They didn't teach us that at the (police) academy."
Goebbert's and zoo workers tracked the animals on ATVs until one was caught alongside Big Timber and another was corralled in a fenced-in pasture off Sandwald Road. It took almost two hours to catch them.
St. Charles dog named cutest rescue of the year: A St. Charles mixed-breed canine called Heaven was named the 2021 winner of People's "World's Cutest Rescue Dog Contest." Heaven broke through more than 10,000 doggy submissions with loads of online votes to become both a top-10 and then a top-three finalist. A panel of judges ultimately chose Heaven as the winner. "She's having quite the day," said Heaven's owner, Jackie Rakers, as she fielded a slew of media interviews. Heaven was initially rescued by a shelter in Hazard, Kentucky, before she became a foster dog candidate by Plainfield- and Batavia-based Starfish Animal Rescue in 2019.
The adventures of Tyson the Bison: An American bison has been spotted grazing in western Lake and eastern McHenry counties, including Cary, months after escaping from a farm in Wauconda Township. People who encounter the large animal -- a female dubbed Tyson the Bison by area residents and police -- shouldn't approach her or try to capture her. "The bison could become aggressive if (she's) cornered," Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Chris Covelli said. Tyson's owners are waiting for a snowfall that's heavy enough to allow them to track and reclaim the bovine, sheriff's police said on Twitter and Facebook.
Arlington Heights couple fosters more than 50 puppies: John and Carolyn Roberts of Arlington Heights found an uplifting way to ride out the pandemic -- fostering puppies. They've fostered more than 50 puppies over the last year, as of June, and they're not done yet. The couple works with the rescue group Fortunate Pooches and Lab Rescue, founded in 2003 by Ileana Cucoc of Palatine. The group is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to saving dogs that are abandoned in shelters and animal control facilities, and providing them with a second chance to be adopted into loving families. Seeing the puppies leave doesn't trigger the emotional attachment they feared. "We love it," Carolyn said, "because they're going to loving families."
Help for turtles near Busse Woods: New turtle crossing signs installed in May next to Busse Woods in Elk Grove Village -- along with depressed curbs installed last fall -- are meant to aid in their annual migration pattern. Forest Preserve District of Cook County staff for decades have observed and received notices of turtles stuck on the side of Beisner Road struggling to get up and over the curb near the hospital and Village Point Church. Turtle crossings occur annually from April through October, and most frequently in June and July.
Puppy stolen, recovered from Lombard pet shop: A stolen puppy valued at nearly $7,900 was found safe and a suspect was in custody with charges pending, Lombard authorities said. The French bulldog/Boston terrier mix was dropped off at a pet store in Riverside, where officers were able to apprehend a suspect, according to Deputy Chief Joe Grage. The puppy was taken from Furry Babies, 170 Yorktown Shopping Center, in Lombard in July. A security video showed a woman with a white outfit lifting the puppy out of a crib, stuffing it into a bag and leaving the store.
Rescue group finds homes for pets displaced by hurricane: The nonprofit Many Paws Global Rescue in Palatine took in 35 dogs from Texas and New Orleans in the month following the devastation of the Category 4 hurricane that made landfall Aug. 30 in Louisiana. "It's like a caravan of animals," said nonprofit founder Jennifer Riordan, who planned to find foster or adoptive homes for all the dogs.
Python found in forest preserve: A snake native to Africa was removed from Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton after a visitor found the reptile coiled beneath her car. The ball python was removed in October after a woman who had been walking at the preserve noticed a large snake under her car and called police. Sgt. Krist Schroeder, an officer with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, grabbed the snake and removed it from the area, WLS-TV reported. Schroeder said it wasn't the first time he's captured a snake at the preserve. He said he gets sad every time people dispose of animals there and wants to remind them that it is illegal to release pets or wildlife into forest preserves.
Palatine hires urban coyote specialist: The village of Palatine hired an urban coyote specialist in January in response to increasing sightings and the killing of two small dogs in the last month. According to experts, the coyote population in Cook County hasn't increased in the last decade, but coyotes have become more visible. That's partly because the animals get used to humans and partly because people are spending more time outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Owner of kennel where 29 dogs died in fire convicted: The operator of a West Chicago-area kennel where 29 dogs died during a 2019 fire was convicted in October of animal cruelty and failing to take proper care of the dogs. Garrett Mercado, 32, of Woodridge was found guilty of three counts of animal cruelty after a five-day bench trial before Judge Robert Miller. Mercado also was found guilty of six counts of violation of owner's duties for how he treated three dogs. All the charges he was convicted of are misdemeanors. "Judge Miller's ruling verifies what we have said all along, that Garrett Mercado completely disregarded the health and safety of numerous dogs in his care," DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement after the verdict.
Russian-speaking parrot rescued in Buffalo Grove: A Buffalo Grove man was full of thanks to local firefighters in September after they rescued his beloved pet parrot. According to his family, Flint is an African Gray and speaks mostly Russian. Owner Vlad Sievsky said Flint, who they've had for 15 years, flew out the front door and out of sight. "The reason he talks Russian is because my parents mostly speak Russian around the house," Sievsky told WBBM Newsradio's Mike Krauser. "He knows all the words by himself." The bird eventually was spotted 40 feet up in a tree in a neighbor's backyard, but Sievsky's ladder wasn't tall enough. The pet owner said at first the Buffalo Grove Fire Department said it couldn't help, but after another call, firefighters showed up and got him. "He's super glad that he's back home," Sievsky said of the parrot.
Snakes seized, reptile show owner charged: An Elmhurst woman who owns a traveling reptile show faced animal cruelty charges in May alleging she failed to properly feed and provide other necessary care to her snakes and other creatures, according to DuPage County authorities. The state's attorney charged Becci, formerly of Villa Park, with seven counts of animal cruelty and seven counts of failure to perform owners' duties. Prosecutors say she didn't provide adequate food, water, light and heat to her animals. In April, Becci had sued the county, its state's attorney's office and the Chicago Herpetological Society to get back nearly 60 snakes and about a dozen other reptiles that had been seized in February.
Social media posts aid recovery of congressman's lost dog: A lost dog story that captivated canine lovers on both sides of the political aisle and around the world reached a happy ending in April for U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider and his family. More than a week after bolting from a dog sitter and disappearing, the Schneiders' yellow Labrador retriever, JoJo, was found and is safe with her humans. "We are overjoyed to have JoJo safely home," said Schneider, a Deerfield Democrat who represents Illinois' 10th District. According to Schneider, the easily frightened JoJo got spooked by something and took off the morning of April 16. Social media posts attracted comments from dozens of supporters and hundreds of shares. With help from Lake County Forest Preserve District police Officer Sam Diaz, JoJo was found at a Bannockburn stormwater reservoir.
Murder most fowl in DuPage County: A chicken fight led to a dead rooster in DuPage County and criminal charges for the man accused of killing it. Richard Meyers, 68, of the 1N099 block of Prince Crossing Road near West Chicago, faced a felony criminal damage to property -- domestic animal charge and a misdemeanor count of cruelty to an animal stemming from the fowl slaying in July. Meyers is accused of shooting a rooster with a .22-caliber rifle in his yard. According to a DuPage County sheriff's report, Meyers told a deputy that chickens regularly escape a neighbor's yard through a 6-inch gap on the bottom of a shared fence. Owner Natalie Cabral said the rooster, named Giro, had been her children's pet.
Elk Grove man nurtures monarch butterflies, educates neighbors: Ned Bruns has built a butterfly playground with a purpose in his Elk Grove Village backyard. "The monarchs are in great decline," Bruns said in August. "Every (person) needs the pollinators to survive." The retired carpenter has filled his suburban yard with flowers and valuable milkweed plants, the only place monarch butterflies lay their eggs, in an effort to help reverse decline. He's handed out $200 in milkweed plants to friends and neighbors and raised and released 657 monarch butterflies last year alone, his most successful season so far. "I show as many people as possible my passion to raise pollinators," he said. "I hope my efforts, along with those of others, will help them be around for our future generations."
Red-tailed hawk from Lake County remembered: In May, 2021, a red-tailed hawk that made an indelible impression over 33 years as an education ambassador was remembered as an old friend by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. The bird of prey was said to have inspired more than 500,000 school kids and others she encountered at various public programs and events during her long life. The hawk was a top attraction in the district's popular Predator Prey program at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods. Even adults were wide-eyed. Her reach was so vast and presence so established, forest preserve officials felt it appropriate and fitting to post the news of her passing on social media.
"We wanted to acknowledge it as a loss for a lot of people," said Nan Buckardt, the district's director of education. "She's made an impression on a lot of people."
Under the "name" portion of required state and federal permits, the bird was listed only as "red-tailed hawk" in deference to her origins as a wild animal rather than a pet.
Supporters of Glenview beavers form fan club: The Glenview Beavers Fan Club debuted on April 8, 2021, in response to the Concord At The Glen Homeowners Association seeking to remove beavers by trapping them under water, likely leading them to drown.
Living in a retention pond along Lehigh Avenue near the development, beavers like fan favorites Brownie and Cocoa drew the ire of the homeowners association after chewing through 20 trees near the pond which, per the club, would cost the association $25,000 to remove and replace.
The fan club, which collected 42,405 signatures on a Change.org petition, "Glenview Residents Against Drowning Beavers in Underwater Traps," held a protest April 11 to support a more charitable way to deal with the beavers. The story drew vast media attention locally and even nationally on CNN, and attracted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the club's cause.
As the fan club reached out to local, state and national wildlife groups for information on the animals, the homeowners association and the development's management company relented on its underwater trapping idea, deciding instead to wrap the base of trees with mesh and let the beavers decide whether it was worth the trouble to gnaw through that.
Not merely a cause du jour, the Glenview Beavers Fan Club, which boasts 1,312 members on its Facebook page, continues to share photos and educational articles on beavers and other wildlife. The group states on its website it even will help Glenview and Northbrook residents and homeowners associations replenish trees damaged by beavers.
The Christmas tree the club decorated, "Peace, Love and Beavers," won "Best Theme" at the Glenview Park District Festival of Trees earlier this month, the fan club reported on Facebook.