Constant yapping hounded neighbors-- then police found 71 Chihuahuas in a raid on a Wheeling home
Some of the dogs--very small dogs--peered over the tops of boxes scattered about the bedroom of the Wheeling town home. Others were clustered behind the toilet, about 35 pairs of scared little eyes peeking from behind the porcelain.
In all, 72 dogs--71 Chihuahuas and a lone papillon--were rescued Wednesday evening from the home that animal shelter officials described Thursday as an illegal puppy mill.
"There were piles and piles of dogs," said Laura Krauch, manager of the Heartland Animal Shelter in Northbrook. "I looked behind the toilet and almost died."
Wheeling police raided the two-story town home in the 800 block of Chelsea Drive around 6 p.m. Wednesday, making their way up a rotting wooden staircase and knocking down a bedroom door on the second floor to confront a woman who had locked herself in with some of the dogs, authorities said.
All of the animals were in good health, and officials offered a silver lining to a story that began when neighbors complained about the smell and constant barking.
Most of the dogs, which range from newborn pups to 8 years old, probably will be adopted, and calls from Chihuahua lovers were already pouring in to the shelter.
When asked how popular the pint-size dogs are, Krauch said, "People love Chihuahuas. You can take them to bingo and put them on the table for good luck. I've seen . . . that."
No charges were filed Thursday against the occupants of the home, where a condemnation notice with bright red lettering was posted on the front door, officials said. It was a family of three people, a woman and her two adult children, said Cmdr. Jim Kuzynowski of the Wheeling Police Department, who declined to release their names.
Village ordinance restricts residents to four dogs per household, and all dogs must be licensed. A charge of cruelty to animals could be filed, Kuzynowski said.
One of the family members was previously cited for having too many dogs and pleaded guilty, he said.
Shelter workers said the dogs were for sale, apparently the sole source of income for the family.
An animal welfare officer from the state Department of Agriculture said the residents had no license to breed and sell animals or to kennel them, according to department representative Chris Herbert.
During the tense confrontation, police had to break down the bedroom door when the woman refused to come out and release the dogs, authorities said. A man believed to be her son doused himself with lighter fluid and had to be restrained by police, officials said.
"He says if you take my dogs, I'm going to kill myself," Krauch said.
The house appeared to be well-kept, at least on the outside, with "nice siding, nice paint," said Hannah Arbizzani, the shelter's executive director.
But when the workers went inside, a suffocating stench of urine wafted over them and they had to don face masks, Arbizzani said.
Dogs were everywhere in the two-bedroom home. "They had the run of the place," she said.
Dragging out dog crates, the workers discovered that one of the animals had just given birth to some pups.
Another dog, a 10-week-old pup a rescue worker nicknamed Binky, cowered in the corner, not wanting to socialize with the others.
The tight clusters of Chihuahuas were sprayed with carbon dioxide to help separate them. They were scooped into cat carriers, counted and taken to the shelter.
Police said 70 dogs were rescued, but shelter officials put the number at 72 after counting and recounting the squirming pups.
Arbizzani said she believed the residents were raising the dogs for sale, probably getting customers over the Internet or through advertisements, for $300 a dog.
"They were breeders," she said. "They weren't hoarding."
Maurice Lazama, 37, a neighbor, said his wife called police, the Wheeling Health Department and the homeowners association several times over the last few months to complain about the noise and smell coming from the home. But when authorities went to the door, no one would answer, he said.
During the standoff Wednesday, police evacuated the adjoining townhouses after the man stood by an upstairs window with lighter fluid, he said.
When Lazama returned to his home, the dogs were lined up in cardboard boxes and crates outside the townhouse, he said. Some boxes had three to five dogs, including some puppies.
The people who lived in the town home "were just reclusive," another neighbor said. "We see them walking in with cases and cases of dog food."
Al Carver, who runs a Chihuahua rescue service in Palos Heights, said he thought the dogs would be adopted quickly.
At any given time, he has a waiting list of 30 to 40 people who want to give one of the small dogs a good home, he said.
"It is a loving dog," Carver said of the Mexican breed. "I have three of them myself."
Thursday afternoon, the dogs were being fed at the Heartland shelter, where they were getting a little chill time to adjust to their new surroundings and recover from the trauma.
Aside from a minor skin condition, the dogs are in general good health, said Lauren Olsberg, manager of Preiser Animal Hospital next to the shelter. All of them will need shots and nail trims, she said.
"Just basic care," Olsberg said. "They are very sweet."
Despite the number of dogs, Olsberg said the shelter is optimistic that homes could be found.
"Small dogs go very fast," she said.
Not fast enough, perhaps.
Wednesday night, a new litter of three pups was born.