When a fire swept through a Chicago area dog kennel in January killing 29 dogs, it was a heartbreaking tragedy. But a further investigation into the case has revealed the dogs were already living in shameful conditions—and now the owner is facing charges.
On January 14, D&D Kennels, a facility in Carol Stream, Illinois near West Chicago, caught on fire. Kennel owner Garrett Mercado discovered the fire when he saw the kitchen area in his apartment above the kennel was ablaze. Firefighters rushed to the scene.
The emergency responders saved as many dogs as they could. Several dogs fled the scene, and almost all were found by the next day, according to the Chicago Tribune. Mercado says he went in and opened the burning cages.
But there were many casualties. Dogs were trapped in their cages and couldn’t escape.
“A lot of them were in cages,” Carol Stream Fire District Chief Bob Hoff told The Chicago Sun-Times. “Some were tied up, and [it was] just a very, very sad scene.”
A total of 29 died in the fire. Others were left with burns and injuries.
The surviving dogs were cared for by local animal service groups. “It’s been incredibly difficult,” department veterinarian and administrator Dr. Barbara Hanek told the Tribune. “We’re all in this business because we love animals.”
Much of the sympathy at the time went to the owner of the kennel. Mercado expressed grief over the deaths of the dogs in his care, five of which were his own.
“I’ve tried to give dogs with behavioral difficulties a second chance,” he said. “Unfortunately, my time’s been cut short with a lot of them.” A GoFundMe page was set up to help Mercado get back on his feet after the fire.
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However, an investigation into the fire painted a very different picture. On July 11, the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s office announced that Mercado was now facing over two dozen misdemeanor charges, including 14 counts of animal cruelty.
The charges stem from an investigation by the DuPage County Fire Investigative Task Force. While they were unable to conclusively find the source of the fire, they did discover the shelter was being rundown and that the 60 dogs in the facility were living in shockingly poor conditions.
According to the office’s Facebook post, the dogs were allegedly suffering from puncture wounds, lacerations, abrasions, weight loss, muscle wasting and dehydration. They also describe a “foul odor throughout the facility” stemming from unsanitary conditions.
Most damningly, the charges allege that Mercado’s poor management of the facility eventually led to their demise in the fire. The attorney’s office claims that dogs were kept in cages stacked on top of each other, that the cages and crates were often too small, that other dogs were inappropriately tethered, and Garrett abandoned them when the fire erupted.
“What happened in the early morning hours of January 14 is heart-breaking,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert B. Berlin said. “It is alleged that Mr. Garrett’s disregard for the health and safety of nearly sixty dogs in his care resulted in the death of twenty-nine of those dogs.”
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Mercado is due in court August 12. It is hoped that the charges will give justice to the victims of the fire.
“I’m truly saddened to see any dogs be treated in this manner,” DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said. “Many times, animals have no advocates. They can’t report a crime committed against them or tell someone that [they’re] being mistreated.”
“That’s why it’s so important for public safety to step up as the guardian for those pets and animals that are being abused or neglected.”
“These dogs lived in cruel and inhumane conditions, and they died a horrible death,” Berlin said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Mendrick praised the heroics of the fire departments who showed up to rescue the animals: “This situation also created an environment where one of our deputies had to risk his life by running into a burning building to save as many dogs as he could,” he said, according to the Facebook post. “This never should have happened.”
He concluded that he was looking to “ensure justice is served and something like this doesn’t happen again.”