NORTH AURORA – When Heather Caminiti opened the garage door of the North Aurora town home she was scheduled to clean after the last tenant moved out, she was shocked to find a rottweiler puppy left in a small wire cage covered in feces, with no food or clean water.
"As soon as I opened the garage door, there was a horrid smell of feces and urine," explained the Carol Stream resident and owner of Caminiti Cleaning. "It was between 20 and 40 degrees in the garage, and [the dog] was lying on the concrete floor. You could count every bone in its body, he was so skinny."
After removing the dog from the cage, cleaning him up and giving him water, she called the Randall Crossings property manager and the North Aurora Police Department to report that the tenant who had just moved out had abandoned the animal, who she said was apparently named Hercules – based on what was printed on an empty water bowl in the cage.
Caminiti was disappointed that the officer told her he had not ever dealt with a situation where an animal was abandoned and was hesitant to press charges against the tenant, who returned to collect the rest of his belongings while Caminiti was there.
"The man said he was coming back to get his dog, but I don't think he was actually going to get the dog," Caminiti explained. "He claimed he has seven kids, and that he knew the dog was being neglected. The dog wanted nothing to do with [the man]. He didn't leave my side."
Caminiti also called Kane County Animal Control, but was told they could not come out.
The tenant eventually let Caminiti keep the dog, which she immediately took to a veterinarian. She called the Chicagoland Dog Rescue, which took Hercules to provide him with a foster family.
While the story has a happy ending for Hercules, as he's now being fostered with a caring family, Caminiti said she's going to continue fighting for justice for Hercules, and believes that the tenant should be criminally charged with abandoning the dog.
"This is animal abuse and cruelty," she said. "I want awareness. I want people to know that it is not OK to do this to an animal. If you're going to take an animal in as a pet, it becomes family. Would you lock your children up in a cage and let them eat their own feces? Animals can't speak for themselves, and there needs to be some sort of ramification."
'We hold strays or charge cruelty'
North Aurora police and Kane County Animal Control disagree over what happened – and didn't happen – regarding Hercules.
Kane County Animal Control Director Brett Youngsteadt said his office could not come out as requested by police and Caminiti because the dog was not at large and it was not abandoned as the owner showed up.
Youngsteadt said when he talked to Caminiti, she did not have proof that the man who claimed ownership actually owned the dog.
"I asked Heather on the phone if she could verify that it was his animal," Youngsteadt said. "There was no proof of ownership. That will not hold up in court. If there is a charge of animal cruelty, we would be the next call and start the process."
According to the Kane County Animal Control website, one of the duties of his office is to "Investigate complaints of neglected and\or abused dogs."
Youngsteadt said he needed to know if the dog was a stray or if there was a charge of cruelty before his office could get involved.
"We hold strays or charge cruelty," Youngsteadt said. "We need to know if cruelty charges are happening. ... If we were confident it was cruelty, we would have come over. … We did not know a lot of details of what was going on here."
North Aurora Police Chief David Fisher said when the officer called Animal Control for assistance, "they did not come out to the scene."
"They would have to answer for that," Fisher said.
The incident is still under investigation and no one can be charged with anything until it is completed, he said.
"Maybe we're not moving as fast as some people would like," Fisher said. "Just because we did not charge (the owner) at the scene does not mean we can't charge him with something. We need to talk to the neighbors. We need to find out how long the dog was alone. We need vet records. ... We are looking into this. ... We have not just washed our hands of it."
Fisher said police would get the vet's records and a report on its condition, and going forward, decide whether charges would apply to the dog's former owner.
"We can always go back and charge the guy," Fisher said. "He's not going anywhere."
Fisher said according to the police report, the owner agreed to relinquish his dog.
"The gentleman said he could not take care of it and gave up ownership," Fisher said. "He agreed to let the dog go to Chicagoland Dog rescue, which was delivered by Heather."
Both Fisher and Youngsteadt said going forward, police and Animal Control need to meet for training.
"Maybe the right questions were not asked," Youngsteadt said. "It might be that simple. ... You can't blame police officers for not knowing everything."
Fisher said both sides need to avoid another situation like this one, going forward.
"We need to get over this hump and not have this happen again," Fisher said.
Misdemeanor or felony
Animal law attorney Cherie Travis, who trains law enforcement on investigating animal crimes, said the law is clear on what happens when a pet is abandoned.
"The mere fact of abandonment of an animal is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail," Travis said. "Leaving a dog tied up, knowing it would starve to death, can be a Class 4 felony."
A Class 4 felony is punishable by one to three years in prison and fines up to $25,000, if convicted.
Not speaking to this case specifically, but in general, Travis said what should happen when a police officer responds to a call of abuse or neglect, animal control should be able to advise and assist in determining what happened to the animal.
In a situation where the owner relinquishes the animal, animal control can take it to its vet for examination and treatment, Travis said.
"When I train police officers, I explain that animal control is responsible for the handling of the animal and police are responsible for handling the investigation," Travis said.
"Also in general, the complainant of animal neglect or cruelty should not be the one to decide what happens to the animal or whether it goes to the vet," Travis said. "The animal is evidence and that should be a function of a government agency.