CHICAGO — New legislation requires kennels in Illinois to always be staffed and have sprinklers or alarms that ring at the local firehouse, after a fire this year killed dozens of dogs.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law on Tuesday, and it went into effect immediately.
It came in response to the blaze that killed 29 dogs at the Bully Life Animal Services kennel in DuPage County just outside West Chicago. Garrett Mercado, the owner, had left the kennel property when the fire alarms went off, and there was no one to hear them. Prosecutors charged Mercado with animal cruelty for keeping the dogs in inhumane conditions.
He appeared in court Friday but had no comment upon leaving the courthouse.
"This common sense law will protect pets from senseless tragedies and further our state's commitment to animal welfare," Pritzker said in a statement. "We're putting safety first and making sure the tragedy that West Chicago experienced in January will never happen again."
An investigation determined Mercado's kennel was housing at least 58 dogs, and that many were mistreated, inappropriately tethered, placed in cages that were too small, or kept in crates stacked on top of one another, DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said during a news conference last month.
The kennel has been closed.
"With this law, Illinois becomes the first state in the nation to extend these kennel fire protections to our furry family members," state Rep. Diane Pappas, an Itasca Democrat, said in a news release.
The law combines ideas introduced by Republican State Sen. Don DeWitte and Pappas who introduced separate kennel fire safety bills weeks after the blaze.
When safety bills were proposed after the fire, kennel owners told the Chicago Tribune that the installation of better alarms systems was a good idea. But they expressed concern regarding the cost. Pappas said residential-grade fire alarms instead of the expensive commercial systems may be allowed.
"As long as the alarm automatically triggers when there's a detection of a problem, that's all we need," she said.