Animal abuse still prevalent

By Stephanie Saviola

“We call them silent victims,” said Terri Sparks, of the Animal Welfare League, about animals that are subjected to cruelty, abuse and neglect every day. Cook County’s Animal Crimes Unit rescued 53 of these victims on Feb. 12 in Kankakee County.

The South Suburban Humane Society in Chicago Heights contacted the Cook County Sheriff’s office a couple of weeks ago to inform them of a puppy mill being run in Kankakee County.

“The humane society brought this problem to us last [Feb. 8] and by [Feb. 12] we had hit the place,” said Steve Patterson, spokesman for Dart. “They knew we’d take it seriously and they knew we’d act on it.”

After a weeklong investigation, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and the Animal Crimes Unit uncovered the puppy mill operating out of two sheds filled with a total of 53 puppies.

“I think the whole Cook County group has really stepped up their efforts in busting puppy mills and cruelty investigations,” said Sparks, marketing and public relations manager for the Animal Welfare League.

According to a Cook County press release, the temperature in the sheds was below freezing and the puppies had broken bones and internal organ problems. The puppies were also infected with fleas and mites.

“Several animals had to be rushed in for emergency surgeries for life-threatening injuries,” said an employee of the South Suburban Humane Society who wished to remain anonymous. “We had several that needed to have their eyes removed, they have terrible ear infections and they all had upper respiratory infections.”

The ages of the dogs and puppies ranged from seven weeks to 10 years and they were being sold for $300 to $600, depending on their conditions. According to reports, the woman behind the puppy mill will be charged with felony cruelty charges in Kankakee County. The woman was not at the home at the time of the raid, and has been charged with misdemeanor arrests for similar crimes.

“The conditions they were living in were so disgusting,” the South Suburban employee said. “Puppies were lying in feces. They should have never been living in sheds.”

In early 2007, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department formed the Animal Crimes Unit. The unit is dedicated to finding and stopping dogfighting rings, puppy mills, animal cruelty and neglect.

“There has never been anything like this before where we devoted a team of officers to strictly investigate animal crimes,” Patterson said. “The interesting thing is the Animal Welfare League and the humane societies have realized what a priority we have made it.”

Patterson said last year one of the Animal Crimes Unit’s main initiatives was to change animal cruelty charges from a misdemeanor to a felony, especially if you attend a dogfighting ring.

“Before, we could only get a felony charge on the guy that organized [the dogfighting ring] and everyone else would just be given a misdemeanor citation for attending,” Patterson said. “Now if you attend a dogfight and we bust it, you are going to be arrested and charged with a felony.”

Twenty-six felony arrests were made and 241 dogs were rescued since the law changed last year.

According to Patterson, there are more problems with the dogfighting rings than just animal abuse.

“The sad thing is we are seeing younger and younger people attend these events,” Patterson said. “[We found] a 9-year-old kid with his brothers and dad watching dogs maul each other.”

The Animal Welfare League, Chicago’s largest animal shelter, also works to educate youngsters about animal cruelty.

“With all this violence going on with the animals and the exposure that children are being given, they are taught that this is a disposable life,” Sparks said. “It is a part of society that is getting worse.”

Cruelty and neglect have been a large problem all along, but according to Sparks, since the economic downturn things have turned from bad to worse.

“It’s becoming all too common,” Sparks said of the puppy mill bust. “People think it’s an easy way to make money in this economy.”

All of the dogs found from the puppy mill raid were taken to the South Suburban Humane Society where they are said to be receiving proper medical attention

and vaccinations.