By Janet Lundquist
Joliet resident Bryan Jones, an animal control officer with Joliet Township Animal Control, was suspended for trying to adopt a 3-year-old long-haired chihuahua that was going to be put to sleep.
JOLIET — Controversy over an animal control officer’s actions — and complaints about the care of the animals in Joliet Township’s charge — led to what may be known in Joliet Township lore forever as the “dead kitten” meeting.
The issues came to light after an animal control officer took and refused to return a Chihuahua that was deemed “aggressive” by center staff.
Township officials call it insubordination.
Township Animal Control Officer Bryan Jones believes he’s saving an animal’s life.
Jones used a dead kitten to make his point during Tuesday night’s township board meeting.
A full audience attended the meeting, calling for the firing of the animal control director and demanding changes in the center’s operation.
A public comment session was punctuated with shouting, arguing and ultimatums.
At one point, Jones pulled a dead kitten out of a black garbage bag and held it up for the board to see.
“This is what’s considered care,” Jones said, wrapping a dirty blanket around the stiffened kitten. The animal, he said, was brought to the center sick and was left to die overnight without food or water.
Animal Control Director Sarah Gimbel said the kitten was too sick to save and would not have made it to a veterinarian.
Others came forward with concerns about the treatment of animals at the center — concerns Township Supervisor Dan Vera says are unfounded.
Tug of war
It all started when Jones decided he wanted to adopt a Chihuahua he calls “Chew” and took it from the animal control center without notifying his supervisor.
Township officials demanded he return the dog, and he refused.
That tug of war led to Jones’ suspension and the eventual request that he either resign or be fired. Both options laid out by Vera involve returning the dog.
Jones was given until 4 p.m. Thursday to make a decision.
“They want this dog no matter what,” Jones said, adding that officials told him they would evaluate it for a week, and if deemed adoptable, he would have first dibs.
“I don’t trust them,” he said, adding that he does not plan to give up the dog. “I’m going to lose my job no matter what. They can get me for theft or something.”
On Feb. 27, Jones said he saw the dog with a “caution: I may bite” sign on its cage. A vet technician said it was aggressive and had snapped at a customer.
Jones said he played with the dog that week without incident. Fearing the dog would be put to sleep, Jones took it home with him on March 2 after his co-workers had left for the day.
He did not notify anyone he took the dog, but wanted to see how it interacted with his own pets. The dog was not acting aggressively, he said.
On March 5, Gimbel sent Jones a text asking if he had the Chihuahua. Jones wrote that he did.
Jones kept the dog that week while he was off work. On March 9, Gimbel called Jones and told him to bring the dog back to the center.
Jones said he told Gimbel he wanted to adopt the dog. Gimbel told him how much it would cost and called a veterinarian clinic to make an appointment for the dog.
Then Gimbel told Vera what was going on.
Vera said he asked Gimbel if the Chihuahua was available for adoption, and she said that it was not, but was still being processed.
“I said, ‘Sarah, I’m giving you a direct order right now as the township supervisor ... that (dog) is the property of Joliet Township,’ ” Vera said. “‘You need to call (Jones) and tell him that dog needs to be back in our facility by 5 o’clock.’ ”
She called Jones and conveyed the message, but he did not return the dog.
Because Jones took the dog without notifying anyone, and refused to bring it back when told to do so, Vera instructed Gimbel to suspend Jones after he came to work on Monday without the dog, Vera said.
The Chihuahua was afraid of a vet technician at the center, and Jones believed the technician would put it down.
“I wouldn’t take the chance that the dog would be safe. I’m not going to find out the dog was put to sleep because of someone’s inexperience,” Jones said. “If you’ve seen the stuff that’s gone on with dogs in the past there, it would make you sick.”
Others have said they believe animals are being misread as aggressive by inexperienced technicians, resulting in euthanization of adoptable animals.
“This (Chihuahua) is a perfectly adoptable dog,” said former volunteer Yvonne Polenc. “They wanted to kill this dog just to prove a point. They say (Jones) stole it. He did not steal that dog.”
Polenc volunteered at the center for more than two years, from 2009 to 2011. She stopped volunteering when she could no longer take the “injustice” there, she said.
“These dogs are laying in their filth. It’s slippery from all the urine on the floor. There aren’t enough people to clean,” she said.
Cindy Alberico, a kennel worker whose job will be eliminated from the township as of April 1, said several dogs — pit bulls and a Rottweiler — were euthanized Monday for aggression.
“I’m back there with these dogs day in and day out. I feed them, I water them, I walk them. Not one of those dogs was aggressive,” she said.
Cleaning the kennel, feeding and watering the animals often does not happen after she leaves for the day at 3 p.m., Alberico said.
Animal Control Officer Steve Fix said animals often are left in dirty cages without food or fresh water.
“Animals are being left to suffer,” he said.
Township officials insist the abuses are not happening.
The center is clean, Vera said, adding he makes frequent unannounced visits. Gimbel also denied the claim that animals are being kept in filthy conditions.
Vera said he has faith in the staff to make the right decisions on animal temperament and medical treatment.
Gimbel said a dog brought in with complications from surgery had its leg amputated and that the center is working with a foster home for that dog.
She also mentioned a Shih Tzu at the center with severe trauma to its eye and a Facebook campaign that raised enough money to help pay for its recovery from surgery.
The recent outcry, Vera said, is likely coming from friends of Jones who are upset that he got in trouble.
“We’re really trying to make that a first-class facility with trained people, and some can’t make that transition,” township attorney Franklin Burkey said.