'Very, very sad scene': 30 dogs rescued but at least 30 killed in kennel fire
For Dr. Barbara Hanek, the nightmare began with an early morning phone call about a kennel fire near West Chicago.
In the chaotic hours that followed, the veterinarian administrator at DuPage County Animal Services would learn that at least 31 dogs died in the blaze at D & D Kennels, but that roughly 30 others were saved by a quick-acting sheriff's deputy and firefighters who braved flames and smoke to rescue the animals. Twenty-three of the dogs were brought to her shelter in Wheaton with a variety of injuries, mostly burns, cuts and bites.
It was a nightmare for the first responders, too, who found some of the dogs tied, caged or loose in the kennel at 2N441 County Farm Road but couldn't reach those on the top floor of the two-story building because of the fire's intensity.
"A lot of them were in cages," Carol Stream Fire District Chief Bob Hoff said. "Some were tied up, and (it was) just a very, very sad scene."
"Nothing prepares you for a day like today," said Hanek, whose staff provided medical care for the rescued animals as well as support and solace for some of the owners, and identified most of the dogs that died.
"It's been kind of a nightmare situation, but the staff has been amazing," she said. "Everybody just pulled together for the sake of the animals and the owners and the rescues. We had a few people kind of break down for a moment, but they didn't want to stop (helping)."
Roughly half the surviving dogs remain at the shelter. The others have been reunited with the rescue groups that own them.
Sheriff's officials said the patrol deputy spotted the fire around 5:30 a.m. and immediately went into the building to begin bringing the dogs to safety.
The cause of the fire does not appear to be suspicious, but it is being investigated by the DuPage County Fire Investigation Task Force, authorities said.
Firefighters arriving on the scene found heavy fire pouring out of second-floor windows of the building, Hoff said.
The building, which had attached kennels on either side, was housing roughly 50 pit-bulls and other breeds.
Firefighters were able to corral the dogs they rescued on the north side of the property. Three firefighters were treated for dog bites; two suffered puncture wounds to the hands and another was bitten on the lip, Hoff said.
"The dogs were so crazy because of the fire," Hoff said. "The dogs were fighting each other trying to bite the firemen. It was pretty crazy for a while."
The dogs on the second floor couldn't be saved because of the volume of fire, Hoff said.
"It was too well involved in fire to get up there to even let them out of the cages," he said.
The building was deemed uninhabitable and boarded up by Monday afternoon.
"We went in, and the firefighters removed all of the remains of the dogs and turned them over to DuPage animal control," Hoff said. "Just a bad day."
The kennel's owner apparently was not in town, but a caretaker was at the scene, Hoff said.
"I don't believe he was there when the fire started," he said. "I believe he was somewhere else, because if he was there, I don't know how he would have gotten out because of the fire conditions."
The dogs were either owned by the rescue run out of D & D Kennels or were being housed for a third-party rescue at the facility, so none are available for fostering.
D & D Kennel, owned by Garrett Mercado, is currently licensed under a new name, "The Bully Life Animal Services," Illinois Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Denise Albert said. It is a licensed kennel operator.
The last routine inspection was done on Sept. 20 and the facility passed, she said.