The operator of a west Chicago-area kennel where 29 dogs died in a fire in 2019 has been convicted of animal cruelty and failing to take care of the dogs.
Garrett Mercado, 32, of Woodridge was convicted Friday on three counts of animal cruelty after a five-day trial before Judge Robert Miller. Mercado was also found guilty on six counts of violating the owner’s duties for the way he treated three dogs – Koko, Magoo and Molly.
All of the charges he has been convicted of are misdemeanors. He will be sentenced on October 22.
“Judge Miller’s ruling confirms what we’ve said all along, that Garrett Mercado has completely ignored the health and safety of many dogs in his care,” said DuPage County District Attorney Robert Berlin. , in a statement after the verdict.
After a six-month investigation into the fire, prosecutors laid out in disturbing detail the conditions inside the kennel near County Farm Road and North Avenue. Some of the charges against Mercado involved a dog named Koko, who was found dead under a pile of debris, strapped to a grab bar in a tub on the second floor, prosecutors said.
Mercado left the kennel for about five hours, at which time a fire broke out on the morning of January 14, 2019, prosecutors said. On his return around 5:30 am, flames were visible on the second floor of the building.
Mercado initially faced more than two dozen charges. But prosecutors dropped three counts on Monday and he was acquitted of six counts on Thursday and 10 counts on Friday.
In his testimony on Friday, Mercado denied tying Koko to the tub the night before the morning fire. But firefighters testified that the tie was so tight the dog could not have moved.
In the end, the judge didn’t believe Mercado.
Two other dogs, Magoo and Molly, were housed in the former D&D kennels in 2017 and 2018.
Prosecutors said Molly was being kept in an undersized crate and Magoo had not received proper veterinary care.
Mercado said Molly was only placed in the undersized crate temporarily during the inspectors’ visit. But a prosecutor said there was evidence Molly was kept there regularly.
As for Magoo, whom Mercado was accused of starving, Miller said that whatever the cause of Magoo’s illness and weight loss, “he clearly needed veterinary care.”
Mercado testified that Magoo would become agitated by the sound of the kibble being poured into his metal bowl, knock out the food and start chewing the bowl. Mercado said he had to hand feed Magoo and that Magoo bit him seven times. The 40-pound dog lost 11 pounds in five weeks.
Miller did not find, however, that the kennel’s terms and conditions constituted negligence or cruelty.
“Just because somebody (a farm) doesn’t have an AAA rating doesn’t mean it’s not acceptable,” he said.
Prior to the ruling, Miller was critical of DuPage County Animal Control and, to a lesser extent, the state’s Department of Agriculture.
A former animal control officer had testified about a visit where she was concerned about the animals, but instead of seeking a complaint, she emailed the agricultural inspector. The animal control officer testified that county officers investigated animal complaints only on residential properties and said the state was responsible for oversight of animal businesses. Mercado had a state license.
Miller noted that Mercado had, prior to the fire, handed over an injured dog to animal control, giving two different accounts of how the animal was injured. The agency treated the dog, and when Mercado requested the dog’s return, he returned it to him. This dog died in the fire.
“It’s clear animal control dropped the ball, and that’s something I have to take into account when considering (the weight of) their testimony,” Miller said.
A DuPage County Sheriff’s Deputy discovered the fire around 5:30 a.m. at the kennel. Mercado was outside. The deputy and Mercado entered the building in an attempt to save the dogs. The deputy said a fire in a stairwell prevented them from reaching the dogs living on the second floor, so he and Mercado went to a room on the first floor instead.
They stayed there briefly, as the deputy heard windows shattering and feared the ceiling might collapse due to the fire.
The charred remains of the kennel have since been demolished and the property has changed hands several times. The current owner now operates the sale of firewood there. The previously unincorporated site was annexed to the village of Carol Stream.