For the past five years, some of my friends were on a mission to close a puppy mill in Kankakee County. Adrian’s Puppy Paradise had hardly been a secret to many people in Kankakee County and it kept churning out puppies over and over. Last spring, an advocate trying to make a difference reached out to them to see what could be done to finally close the mill near St. Anne. That effort intensified over the past six months ending with Operation Spring Break a few weeks ago.
The first discussions came at a board meeting for The Puppy Mill Project just over a year ago. An undercover investigation was underway. Like a few others trying to shut the mill down, Cari Meyers and Janie Jenkins had gotten close enough to take pictures and videos. Some of them very clear.
The search for actual evidence
However, in an animal cruelty investigation, that is far from enough. You need actual evidence. When people went to the house to buy a puppy, they would get in the door and wait upstairs in the kitchen for the puppy to be brought to them. You have to get inside to see the true conditions the dogs are living in and buyers were not brought down to the basement to see the full extent of the operation.
“Many people look at photos or listen to the yelps of dogs from puppy mills on videos on social media and don’t understand why they haven’t been shut down,” says Meyers, founder of The Puppy Mill Project. “It’s just not enough. You need hard, fresh evidence for a search warrant for anything to happen. When you are dealing with people at a puppy mill that know they can’t let anyone “Learn the Truth” and are used to living under the radar, it’s really hard to get it done.”
Fresh evidence is a key point. There had been plenty evidence that had come in over the years. Unfortunately, evidence that was months or years old often was no longer accurate when handed to authorities. Often the Illinois Department of Agriculture had warned or written up Adrian’s Puppy Paradise. The conditions would then change.
The long investigation
Before Adrian’s Puppy Paradise was busted as part of Operation Spring Break, freeing 81 dogs and two cats, there was a lot of quiet work going on behind the scenes. Meyers and Jenkins had checked out the property and talked to many people in the community on a continual basis. There were ongoing discussions with Kankakee County Animal Control.
The initial tip came through connections made on the Kankakee Trading Post online. As the digging continued during they year, those connections and others made on social media would be instrumental in taking down the puppy mill. While board members for The Puppy Mill Project and a few officials knew about the under-the-radar investigation, no one else knew all the work that was underway leading up to the bust.
You see the problem with being public in investigations like this is that the puppy miller can pull up stakes and move on with the dogs in tow. Or, they may kill the dogs (and not humanely) and start new someplace else. If authorities move too soon, the legal action can be tossed and the dogs go back to the puppy mill. That happened in 2010 with another puppy miller in St. Anne because evidence didn’t go through the proper legal channel…she got her dogs back (and she moved to Indiana where it took five years to bust her again).
It’s a delicate balance.
A break in the case
When the investigation was ongoing, it often seemed like they were taking more steps backwards than forwards. Shortly before Easter, that break finally came. A contact that Meyers had been in touch with during this time connected with her and the necessary evidence was finally in hand.
In this particular case, the connection was a rescuer that had dealt with Adrian’s Puppy Palace before and pulled dogs from the operation. She was able to pull more dogs out again recently and talked to her own connection at a central Illinois Animal Control to find out what to do. That animal control officer convinced her that she had to relinquish dogs to Animal Control in Kankakee County for evidence.
She turned over the worst of the five dogs. Meyers and Jenkins, the Executive Director of The Puppy Mill Project, met with Kankakee County Animal Control and picked up the five dogs and went straight to a veterinarian - Derrick Landini - for assessment. The condition of these five little dogs provided the crucial evidence needed for a search warrant to finally take action.
Preparing for Operation Spring Break
“Before that happened, Janie and I had been worried about how we were going to properly pull this rescue off if and when it finally happened,” says Meyers. “We’d been involved with large-scale rescues before and knew we needed to call in a lot of help. This would take more than a handful of rescues to execute. In December, we reached out to ARC.”
Jenkins had worked on a puppy mill rescue in the past with Animal Rescue Corps (ARC), a group with a lot of experience rescuing from mills. The Puppy Mill Project (Jenkins and Meyers) put ARC in contact with Kankakee County Animal Control who brought in the State's Attorney. In the past few months, The Puppy Mill Project worked with the State's Attorney to garner the evidence needed in the case.
As the plans moved forward, ARC reached out to their rescue partners – The Bissell Pet Foundation, which donated funds and manpower to the rescue, and PetSmart Charities, which donated many of the much needed supplies and kennels. ARC also orchestrated getting the veterinary partners in place – Dr. Jane Lohmar, Co-Founder of Veterinary Professionals Against Puppy Mills – and Dr. Landini. They pulled in other volunteers to help, set up the rescue camp and then outlined rescue day operations. ARC called in PAWS Chicago for transport assistance.
Freedom for the puppy mill dogs
Once the warrant was executed, the authorities went to the house where Louise Guiterrez immediately relinquished the dogs. Had authorities had to seize the dogs, those dogs would currently be held as evidence while the case moved forward and they would not currently be with rescues.
The rescue was then underway and included dogs that ranged from seniors to a couple of puppies just days old. A litter was born to one of the dogs shortly after rescue. The State’s Attorney is continuing to compile evidence in preparation for filing charges. He also continues to investigate if the owner Guiterrez may have moved at least 30 dogs prior to the rescue when word leaked that something may have been in the works.
Each animals taken in that day was evaluated and all of the conditions were documented for further court proceedings. In the days since the rescue, the dogs have scattered throughout the Chicago Rescue community. South Suburban Humane Society, PAWS Chicago, One Tail at a Time and Alive are just a few of the rescues that stepped up. The pregnant cats went to Tree House Humane Society.
The Puppy Mill Project had gone undercover three times, met several times with the State's Attorney and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to connect the right people for the rescue to happen. When the rescue hit my Facebook feed, I put in a quick call to Cari Meyers who answered her phone from the scene of Operation Spring Break - “We did it…we finally did it.” She didn’t need to say more.
Operation Spring Break success!!!! Our 6 puppy mill survivors get their first taste of freedom! They surprised us all. Enjoy! To read their full story, check out Animal Rescue Corps page! Thank you to ARC for facilitating their rescue!
Posted by Alive Rescue on Tuesday, April 14, 2015
How can you help?
On Mother’s Day weekend, The Puppy Mill Project will hold their annual benefit – The Mothers in the Mills – to remember the mother dogs that are not as lucky as those rescued from Adrian’s Puppy Paradise. Funds raised will help with education programs and to help fund Millie’s Mission, The Puppy Mill Project's fund that assists rescues with the huge veterinary expenses for the puppy mill dogs they are able to rescue. The fund is named after Meyers's dog, a mother dog rescued from a puppy mill.
“We often hear from groups that would love to take in dogs rescued from mills but the veterinary bills can be astronomical,” says Meyers. “When we get a call now that says there is a mill with 40 dogs that need rescue but that group doesn’t have the resources to help, thanks to Millie's Mission are able to provide some of those resources.”
The Mothers in the Mills will be held at Moonlight Studios at 1446 West Kinzie Street in Chicago from 7 to 11 pm. Tickets are $115 in advance and $125 at the door and may be purchased here.
Learn more about the work done by The Puppy Mill Project -
- Rescue Groups Collaborate to Save 93 Puppy Mill Dogs
- Chicago Bans Puppy Mill Sales in Pet Stores
- Cook County Pet Store Ordinance
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