WHEATON, Ill. – The owner of a suburban kennel where nearly 30 dogs died in a 2019 fire was sentenced Tuesday to 20 days in jail and six years of court supervision.
Garrett Mercado, 32, of Woodridge, was found guilty of three counts of animal cruelty and six counts of violation of owner’s duties.
The charges stem from an early morning fire at a kennel in January of 2019 that claimed the lives of 29 dogs.
Mercado, who owned Bully Life Animal Services, formally called D&D Kennels, lived above the kennel in the 2N100 block of North County Farm Road. He was not home at the time of the fire on Jan. 14, police said.
The state’s attorney said investigators found stacked in cages without adequate water or food at the kennel and some dogs were tethered in a manner restricting their movement.
The state’s attorney said the investigation also found the dogs died as a result of Mercado’ leaving the kennel for approximately five hours, at which time a fire broke out.
Investigators also determined numerous dogs were mistreated suffering puncture wounds, lacerations, abrasions, weight loss, muscle wasting and dehydration.
“The fire that raged through the kennel that morning during Mr. Mercado’s five-hour absence and resulted in the death of twenty-nine dogs left in his care is a heartbreaking tragedy for not only the owners of those dogs that perished, but also for the entire community,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a statement.
In response to the fire, Gov. JB Pritzker signed legislation in 2019 that requires kennels in Illinois to always be staffed and have sprinklers or alarms that ring at the local firehouse.
Garret is due in court again on November 23 for a status hearing. At the hearing, it will be determined when he will surrender.
Some animal activists say the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“I think this is a baby step for accountability. Garrett is not sorry,” said Kristina Minwegen. “He hasn’t said sorry.”
Minwegen, whose foster dog was under the care of Mercado at the time of the fire called Tuesday’s sentencing a slap on the wrist. She said that she wishes more people from the animal rescue community would have shown for the judge’s ruling.
“He doesn’t care,” Minwegen said. “[Mercado] still thinks he’s not wrong. He’s mad we showed up at every court date.”
Naperville Police Department Animal Control officer Shannon Hedman said she wished Mercado got more time.
“I wish that he would be going to jail for longer but I’m happy that the judge ordered the no-contact for six years. I think that’s most important that he’s not allowed to work with animals or operate another business during that time,” Hedman said.
Animal activist Mary Beth Grant believes the state laws in Illinois regarding animal cruelty and neglect are not easily enforced.
“There’s a lot that needs to be fixed,” she said. “I personally am pursuing fixing those. I’m working to get legislation changed.”