by Danielle Golab
It’s business as usual at the Waggin’ Tails animal shelter in Cicero, despite reports of neglect and ongoing protests among both Berwyn and Cicero residents.
In November, Chicago television station WFLD aired pictures of dead and abused animals. The photos were taken by people who said they were volunteers at the shelter. Cicero President Larry Dominick attacked the report as false and the volunteers as liars. Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero also has spoken out against the critics.
Recently, a Facebook-based petition drive has gathered 500 signatures calling for an investigation of the animal shelter, review of the employees, publication of health and death records, the hiring of an independent veterinarian to evaluate all animals at the shelter, a public apology from Dominick and the reinstatement of the volunteer program.
The petition organizers plan a rally at Cicero City Hall at 1 p.m. March 8.
Another group, Animal Welfare Advocates for Rescue Excellence, also known as AWARE has met with Cicero spokesperson, Ray Hanania, to discuss changes in the shelter. AWARE will be putting together a proposal for the Cicero town board. One of the topics discussed on the proposal will be concerning the volunteer program.
Some Berwyn residents are also concerned because stray animals in Berwyn go to Cicero’s Waggin’ Tails since the two cities signed an intergovernmental agreement for animal control since March of 2010.
But Dominick’s attacks has not slowed down the critics in Berwyn and Cicero.
Berwyn businessman and animal lover Matt Schademann has begun researching the Waggin’ Tails.
“I run a Facebook group, Friends of Berwyn Dogs, so I thought it was my duty to learn all I could about this place, and the unique contract our city of Berwyn has with Cicero to take our strays,” he said.
Schademann has participated in protests outside the shelter, and hosted several meetings to talk to residents about the allegations and Berwyn’s future relationship with the Cicero shelter.
Berwyn resident Jill Bambenek is also extremely concerned about the issue.
“As a Berwyn resident it makes me very unhappy that the city of Berwyn is still using Waggin’ Tails as their facility,” she said.
Long-time Cicero resident Diana Martinez has volunteered at Waggin’ Tails for several years. She says that the shelter was too small for the large number of animals it was expected to hold. Martinez states that the shelter was dirty and unorganized. She also says that the limited staff had no experience in animal care.
“All the work was done by the volunteer system. They do not have a veterinarian on site, and they claim to have a private practitioner veterinarian come in to examine the animals once a week but I never personally saw anyone treat the animals,” she said.
Martinez took a break from volunteering in 2012 and then returned to the shelter to volunteer in 2014. She said the conditions had gotten even worse. The entire building was filthy and there were feces all over the animal’s cages, even in the animal’s water bowls.
“In one occasion I saw a puppy vomit blood and I let the secretary know, since the director Erika Rosas was not there, she only told me to not worry about it. I also saw that they let animals like raccoons, gerbils and hamsters die because they did not have the correct food for them. They also had a back room in where we all supposed they euthanized animals since no volunteer was allowed to go in and animals who had been there for a while were taken into” she said.
Martinez helped organize protests against Waggin’ Tails. The first protest consisted of 65 residents of Berwyn, Cicero and even Chicago. For the second protest only 25 people showed up; Martinez attributes the lower turnout to the day’s harshweather.
The shelter has attracted a history of controversy.
In 2009 Sharon Starzyk, former director of Waggin’ Tails, accused Larry Dominick, president of Cicero, of sexual harassment. Starzyk was fired from the shelter, butended up with a settlement of $500,000, according to Fox TV station WFLD.
WFLD also reported that Dominick hired Erika Rosas to replace Starzyk. Rosas had no previous experience working with animals but she was a generous contributor towards the Dominick campaign, according to the reports.
Dominick has claimed that reports of animal neglect were part of a campaign orchestrated by Starzyk.
Despite the recent controversy surrounding the animal shelter, Berwyn continues their agreement with the town of Cicero regarding Waggin’ Tails. Mayor, Robert Lovero has stated that accusations against shelter management were fabricated.