In more than 40 years as an animal rescuer, Bill Caprio helped countless dogs, a duck, a pig, even a rooster. Oh, and also a baboon, some foxes, the occasional hedgehog and a boa constrictor.
But one of his most memorable cases involved Sinbad the cat. A meter-reader had called in the report. “The cat looked like it was dragging a carpet,” said Elliott Serrano, an education manager with the Anti-Cruelty Society.
It was December 2016, and Mr. Caprio was dispatched to Sinbad’s home. He discovered the Persian mix dragging five pounds of matted fur, along with dirt and maggots.
Colleagues said Mr. Caprio used diplomacy to convince the elderly, financially pressed owner that Sinbad would have a better life if he gave up his pet.
“He had a way of saying, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you figure things out,’ ” Serrano said. “He knew how to be very charming about things, and then he knew how to be very direct.”
Sinbad recovered. And Serrano, who adopted him, created a Facebook page for the cat, which drew comments from animal lovers worldwide.
Mr. Caprio, a humane investigator for 12 years with the Anti-Cruelty Society and a 30-plus-year employee of Chicago Animal Care and Control before that, died Sunday of cancer at the Chateau Center in Willowbrook, according to relatives. A widower, he was 68 and had lived in Countryside.
“Chicago’s animal welfare community lost one of its heroes,’’ the society said.
He investigated neglect, cruelty, starvation, pet hoarding and dog fighting. In one suburban case, he and other investigators donned hazmat suits to enter an abandoned house where there were more than 100 abandoned cats.
“He saved many animal lives,” said his sister Kathy.
After rescuing critters, “He would take them outside for walks and just comfort them,” said Dotty Cowles-Newton, a field services manager with the Anti-Cruelty Society.
In his final days, he wanted to know about Molly, a sickly cat found in 2018 in an alley. “One of the last conversations I had with him, I was able to tell him she was adopted and brought him a picture of her,” Cowles-Newton said.
Mr. Caprio grew up in Little Village in a close-knit Italian-American family. One cousin, Mike Coletta, was the Chicago City Council sergeant-at-arms under five mayors, said another cousin, Ralph Gaeto. “Three or four days of the week, you’d go and visit aunts and uncles,” Gaeto said.
And, said Kathy Caprio, “We always had dogs.”
In recent years, though, Mr. Caprio didn’t own any. He felt he wasn’t home enough to take care of them.
He attended McCormick grade school and Harrison High School and served in the U.S. Army in Germany.
Coworkers called him “Uncle Bill.” They say he taught them how to approach each case with a fresh outlook. For instance, a dog might have been neglected not out of intentional cruelty but because of its owner’s mental illness.
“He said, ‘We need to get you help, and we need to get your animals help,’ ” said Imelda Corona, a city animal control officer. “He was never judgmental toward them or talked to them in a degrading way.”
“He was just, like, ‘We’ll provide a home for them,’ ” said Tony Del Rio of Animal Care and Control.
Simon Harries, a former Anti-Cruelty investigator, remembers getting a report in 2011 about a man who poured hot water on a dog. He and Mr. Caprio knocked on the man’s door, spotted his mountain cur mix in a sweater and thought, “Something’s not right.”
“We took the sweater off the dog, and the sweater stuck to the wounds” from burns, Harries said.
The dog received veterinary care and was adopted. The man was convicted of animal cruelty.
“If ever there was a guardian angel for animals,” Harries said, “it was Bill Caprio.”
He also had a vast knowledge of good street food. “We always talked about different hot dog stands and taco stands,” Serrano said. One of Mr. Caprio’s favorites was Ignotz Ristorante, 2421 S. Oakley.
Sometimes, he’d hang out at fishing holes with angler friends, but “he would never even fish,” Gaeto said. “He didn’t want to hurt the fish.”
Services have been held.