Berwyn is Still Using Waggin’ Tails Animal Shelter Despite Recent Controversy

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.

15 Comments

Filed under Politics

15 responses to “Berwyn is Still Using Waggin’ Tails Animal Shelter Despite Recent Controversy

  1. Waggin’ Tails is the BEST shelter in the Chicagoland Suburbs. Anyone who visits the shelters and visits Waggin’ Tails knows this to be true. The activists don’t care about the animals. They only care about their own political agendas and their protests have been designed to prevent the public from adopting animals that need homes, which is shameful from people who claim they love animals. Waggin’ Tails denied all of the accusations and pointed out that the majority of the photographs were taken years before and have nothing to do with the conditions of the animal shelter today. The public can come and visit the shelter and see for themselves. Our animals are loved and cared for and receive the best possible treatment until they are adopted. It’s a fact. Thanks for writing.
    RAY HANANIA
    Town Spokesman
    You can visit our Facebook Page and see the images of dogs and cats that need homes today, at http://www.Facebook.com/

    • Can you please tell me what these so called “political agendas” the people trying to help these animals have? You continue to use that same speech over and over with no backing behind your accusations. TIme to write a new speech Ray.

    • Elsa

      Ray, you keep reiterating that the activists have some covert political agenda when their intentions are aimed towards holding the town accountable to provide adequate conditions for current and futur animals at the shelter. Have you personally reached out to the protestors? Have you as a civil servant made an effort to build a constructive relationship with these activists? You can’t make progress without trying to understand the other side.

  2. Patricia Heredia

    Stop animals been abused

  3. I want to thank you for writing this article. Please keep this story in the public eye. I know for a fact when the pictures were taken and it was not “years ago”. The majority of those pictures were taken during the months of July, August, September and October of 2014. I have proof.

    I am positive that since the story broke the shelter is much cleaner, but everyone is well aware that it will all go back to the way it was. It is extremely sad that “due to politics” the animals have to suffer.

    If for any reason you want more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  4. I want to thank you for writing this article. This is a story that should not disappear from the Berwyn/Cicero community. People need to stay aware of what is happening at their Local Animal Shelter.

    I happen to know that the pictures that were taken, in the shelter, were taken during the months of July, August, September and October of 2014. Only a few, rats and flies, were old. However, those were not used for the story on Fox News. However, Mr. Hanania and others decided to say that “all” were old. I have proof that the photos were from 2014. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Many of us know that due to the story airing in November of 2014, the shelter was cleaned up and will remain so for some time. As long as press continues to do stories, they will keep it up. As soon as this story goes away, in time, it will return to the condition it was in when I walked through the doors in April of 2014. I literally gagged and choked and had to run out the doors to get air.

  5. We agree, stop animals being abused and exploited by people who don’t care for them. Here’s our Facebook Page,again: https://www.facebook.com/WagginTailsCicero

    • Ray Hanania: Seems to me that this so called “activist” “protesters” must care very deeply for these animals, otherwise they wouldn’t be so upset. Why don’t you do something to help the animals in the care of “certain” employees that don’t give a crap and only care about their paychecks. Why don’t you talk with some of these people. I have not been involved in the protest etc. and would be more than happy to stop in and talk to you, IF you are willing to hear the truth and so something about it.

      • Sorry about the typos. Just so fed up with hearing the same thing over and over. Again, I’m willing to talk, only IF you are willing to hear the truth, acknowledge the truth and do something about it!

  6. Of all the people that provided imagery that were used in the newscast, I implored every one of them to get into my hands ORIGINAL untouched photo files, so I could look behind the scenes at the meta-data which is embedded in each one. This would have proven or disproved the time, date, and location of GPS coordinates which were part of each file. Coming from about 5 different sources, not one of them could get these into my hands.

    Also for the record, I did NOT participate in the protest, but rather documented it, with Press credentials, as a photojournalist. My part was to find information, so that we as taxpaying Berwynites would feel comfortable continuing our relationship with this facility when we have to call Animal Control.

    My general conclusion is that the only way this, as a government run facility, can maintain standards high enough to be called ‘credible’, is to reinstate the volunteer program and open to Berwynites and others, and not just hand-picked mentally disabled and troubled high school youth working of detentions or various programs. Many people that have experience in ‘Shelter Culture’ are willing to give time. To deny these people from the outside gives credence to the complaints of the protesters. To allow them in shows forthright and earnest sincerity in the eventual welfare of the animals that pass through here daily.

    No shelter can possibly operate under normal standards unless there is a strong backbone of experienced volunteers, especially when it comes to vital mental and physical health of these animals, such as sanitation and physical exercise paired with mental stimulation.

    • Hmmmmm….couldn’t get them into your hands; or wouldn’t get them into your hands? Why would anyone trust a complete stranger.

      Let’s hang tails out of the car trunks????? Great publicity stunt!!!! Teenagers will eat it up. LOL LOL LOL LOL

  7. This was well done!!!!! Frank did a great job!!!

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