Illinois kennel fire sparks animal rescue standards debate

SHARE Illinois kennel fire sparks animal rescue standards debate
Sherie Gechas of Lisle reunites with her dog, Jackson, at DuPage County Animal Services

Sherie Gechas of Lisle reunites with her dog, Jackson, Monday at DuPage County Animal Services in Wheaton. Jackson was rescued from a fire Monday morning at D & D Kennels near West Chicago. Daily Herald/Bev Horne

Daily Herald/Bev Horne

WEST CHICAGO, Ill. — A kennel in suburban Chicago that took in troublesome dogs is being criticized after a fire on the property killed 31 animals, although the operation’s head trainer remains a hero to some.

Rescue groups often brought their most difficult animals to Bully Life Animal Services in West Chicago for training before attempting to foster home placement.

The dogs killed in last month’s fire were trapped in cages in a small two-story building on the property, while dogs that were kept in the outdoor kennels survived, fire officials said. Investigators have yet to say what caused the fire.

RELATED: Kennel fire claims 31 dogs near West Chicago; 30 rescued

The kennel hasn’t reopened since the fire, so the dogs that survived were sent to other rescue organizations or foster homes, said Barbara Hanek, veterinarian administrator at DuPage County Animal Services.

Some animal rescue groups said Bully Life’s head trainer, Garrett Mercado, gives a second chance to dogs that would otherwise have been put down.

“He had remarkable results,” said Linda Wyka of the Fetching Tails Foundation. “Almost all of the dogs (the foundation paid him to train) have been adopted. These were dogs that needed a little more help than the average dog.”

Other groups have criticized Mercado for taking in more dogs than can be safely cared for. State and county officials filed inspection reports last year saying the property was filthy and noted troubling conditions including cramped cages, a foul odor, piles of dog waste and an apparent lack of power.

“I believe his heart was in the right place and he’s a great person,” said Kimberly Jenney, whose rescue operation, Have a Heart Dog Rescue and Adoption, had a pit bull injured in the fire. “I do think he got in over his head, personally.”

Mercado said the increase in dogs at his facility wasn’t too much to handle.

“I had some dogs that didn’t need much (training), and I couldn’t say no to them,” he said. “They were in rough spots. They just needed somebody to help push them to the next step.”

Mercado said he still plans to continue training dogs and hopes to open another kennel in the future.

“I know what to do better next time,” he said.

D & D Kennels in West Chicago after fire

The West Chicago kennel was ruled uninhabitable Monday. | Fetching Tails Foundation

Fetching Tails Foundation

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