Photo by Dermot Connolly
Three employees of the Animal Welfare League shelter at 10305 Southwest Highway in Chicago Ridge have had their euthanasia technician licenses placed on probation by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
By Dermot Connolly
The state licenses of three euthanasia technicians working at the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge have had put on probation by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
These actions follow several others taken by the regulatory agency that oversees professional licenses in Illinois since animal-rights activists began protesting nearly two years ago against what they claim is substandard care at the animal shelter at 10305 Southwest Highway.
While officials representing AWL are downplaying the findings, Chicago Ridge Trustee Ed Kowalski called them “a violation of the public trust.”
In December 2018, the IDFPR assessed a $10,000 fine against the Chicago Ridge shelter. Its state euthanasia license was also placed on "indefinite probation with practice restrictions" for a minimum of five years. This ruling also covers AWL’s Chicago location at 6224 S. Wabash Ave.
A cease-and-desist order was also handed down in November 2018 to AWL's former executive director and board president Linda Estrada, who had stepped down from that role the previous May amid mounting pressure from protesters. She allegedly performed surgeries and administered drugs to shelter animals without a veterinary license, which she denies. Her son, Mark Estrada, was among several former AWL employees whose euthanasia licenses were placed on probation last June. But John Fanning, a spokesman for AWL, said then that they were no longer working at the facility.
In the most recent actions taken after hearings, according to a report issued by the IFPR, the euthanasia technician’s license of Linda Schickel, of Worth, was placed on indefinite probation for a minimum of five years based on allegations that she failed to weigh animals prior to performing euthanasia and failed to maintain proper records as required by law.
Schickel was also accused of assisting Linda Estrada. Theresa Harris, of Berwyn, and Donna Harris, of Palos Hills, also had their euthanasia licenses placed on indefinite probation for a minimum of two years based on allegations that they failed to weigh animals prior to performing euthanasia, and failed to maintain proper records as required by state law while employed at Animal Welfare League.
While activists point to the IDFPR findings as proof of what they have been saying all along about bad animal care, AWL officials downplayed the significance of the findings.
“ All three of these technicians are employed at AWL and we consider them valuable and dedicated employees. None of these three employees were ever accused of, or found to have harmed or endangered any animal in any way while employed at AWL. It is our understanding that the IDFPR found that some paperwork filed as part of their administrative duties may not have fully complied with every reporting requirement of IDFPR. Because of these reporting discrepancies, these technicians agreed to permit the IDFPR to examine their work and paperwork filing in the future. This agreement is consistent with every agreement AWL has made with licensing and regulatory agencies to ensure full public transparency of its operations,” said Fanning, the AWL spokesperson.
“ The findings by IDFPR in no way impact upon the duties performed by these technicians, nor on the operation and care of animals provided by AWL and its employees,” said Fanning.
“AWL has never had any license or certification suspended by any regulatory agency,” said Fanning, asserting that “information reported by (some local media) and detractors of AWL that licenses were suspended are false and consistent with a pattern of false information that has been spread by local politicians on social media.
“AWL has never been found to have harmed or endangered any animal under its care. Our facility and our operational methods have been examined by a variety of agencies at the federal, state and local level. At no time has AWL ever been found to have harmed, or in any manner endangered or inhumanely treated any animal. AWL and its leadership have been consistently committed to full public transparency and disclosure. This transparency extends to an open invitation to all regulatory agencies to examine our facility, operations and reporting at any time,” he continued.
Fanning said that “the services provided by AWL have not been impacted in any manner by decisions made by the IDFPR.”
He said the search is continuing for a permanent director, which began when Estrada stepped down in May 2018. “We continue to both accept and review applications for a new Director of Operations for AWL, and will make an announcement when appropriate.”
Kowalski is working on a local ordinance that would give Chicago Ridge some oversight at the shelter, which is now regulated by the state Department of Agriculture. He has maintained that the state agency has overlooked issues at the shelter. A proposed ordinance that was first brought up in June is being reworked after a couple of other trustees expressed reservations about the village enacting legislation regarding shelters that could lead to costly lawsuits against the village and them individually.
The trustee said he hopes to have a new version that satisfies everyone ready to be voted on in early 2020.
Calling the IDFPR findings a “betrayal of public trust,” Kowalski said “Many people have taken their animals to AWL, many lost pets that have gone through their doors. Now we ask the real question, how many suffered at the hands of their staff? The fact is, their board lied. They said Linda Estrada never was involved with medical decisions. We now know the truth.”
“AWL (officials) are invited to meet with me any time to move forward and right these wrongs. We can’t change the past but we can change the future. They need to stop name-calling me and work with me. Change is coming and it is up to them to embrace it or continue to fail.”