Shelter owner — animal lover or abuser?
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 February 18, 2011 8:22PM
Though a shelter operator’s license can be revoked or suspended immediately if the facility is in obvious violation of the Animal Welfare Act, Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said typically a first violation brings a $200 fine. A second within three years of the first carries a $500 fine. A third violation within three years brings a $1,000 fine and mandatory probationary status.
For more information or to file a complaint about a shelter, call the agriculture department’s Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare at (217) 782-4944.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Since Cook County sheriff’s police and animal control authorities raided Dazzle’s Painted Pastures in Tinley Park nine days ago, callers have been wanting to chat about the shelter’s owner, Dawn Hamill.
A few told of a kindhearted woman who simply got in over her head.
But most described a greedy narcissist who knowingly adopted out sick or injured animals, who ignored unhealthy conditions at her shelter and who just maybe used donated money for luxury vehicles and cosmetic surgery for herself.
These are harsh accusations, to be sure. But the callers insist they sum up an even harsher reality.
In the Feb. 11 raid, investigators found a dead miniature horse and a dead cat on Hamill’s property. Many other animals were sick or near death. More than 100 were removed from the 3.5-acre property, and Hamill was charged with 10 counts of neglect and cruel treatment.
Lisa Leach, Jennifer Ferrentino, Pat Malloy and Vernon Neeley were among the callers who’d like to see Hamill lose her license.
Leach, of Morris, first complained to authorities in 2008. She submitted photos of horses with hooves that had not been tended to for months. She believes Hamill is part of a network that profits from shuffling horses around.
Ferrentino, of Hometown, said she adopted a kitten from Hamill through a Crestwood PetSmart adoption event last summer. She says Hamill not only lied about the feline’s age and its vaccination record, but that the cat was riddled with fleas and mites and died within 48 hours.
Malloy, of Chicago’s West Beverly neighborhood, said she tried on several occasions in summer 2009 to make a donation to Painted Pastures, but Hamill never was there to accept it. She continued to call Hamill “until she went nuts on me and started screaming that she was busy.”
Neeley, of Oak Forest, met Hamill when he purchased a horse from her in June 2009. Neeley agreed to pay $200 month and to let Hamill board the animal. He also offered to help clean up the place.
“She needed help, and I love horses,” he said.
Before long, Neeley’s wife, his brother and his brother’s wife were volunteering at the sanctuary, along with Hamill’s neighbors. In addition to feeding the horses and cleaning out the stables, the volunteers were recruited to raise funds, Neeley said. They stood outside grocery stores and helped at a fundraiser at Balmoral Park racetrack.
Within a few months, though, Neeley and the others started becoming suspicious.
“We were raising all this money, but very little seemed to be making its way back to the animals,” he said.
There was no money for cleaning out manure, for grain, for a farrier to come out and trim the horses’ hooves, he said, even though Hamill was getting donations from an impressive list of corporate donors. That list can be viewed on the Painted Pastures Web site.
Particularly bothersome, Neeley said, was that Hamill seemed to have plenty of money for herself. She owned several high-end vehicles, including Hummers, and he and other volunteers started noticing changes in Hamill’s appearance. They couldn’t help but wonder about cosmetic surgery, he said.
That fall, Neeley said Hamill “gifted” a horse to him in appreciation of his hard work. Neeley said he was delighted to have a second horse until he learned that Hamill had gifted the same horse to a neighbor’s daughter. The volunteers soon realized that Hamill made a habit of gifting animals and then taking them back on a whim.
“If you challenged her in any way, she’d go nuts, take the animal back and kick you off the property,” he said.
One volunteer, who asked not to be named, said she worked at Painted Pastures for 32 days straight before admitting to Hamill that she needed a break. She said Hamill told her not to bother coming back.
After being kicked off Hamill’s property, Neeley said he moved the horse that he initially had purchased from her to another stable and eventually to his own property. He thought that was the end of it. Months passed.
But in fall 2010, while he was at a gathering on Donna Southerland’s property, which backs up to Hamill’s, he noticed that Hamill’s horses looked half-starved. He took photos and compared them with photos he’d taken the previous June at a graduation party at Southerland’s house.
Neeley said he and his friends called the Hooved Animal Society for help. They were told to direct their complaints to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which they did on numerous occasions.
The agriculture department licenses pet stores as well as nonprofit shelters and sanctuaries like Painted Pastures and also has investigators to check out consumer complaints. It has six investigators for the 102 counties in Illinois.
“Nevertheless,” spokeswoman Januari Smith said, “we investigate every complaint.”
Smith said Hamill’s license still is active because she has not been convicted of the charges.
“The Illinois Department of Agriculture has opened its own investigation into the facility and will continue to work with all other agencies involved,” Smith said, adding that a final decision will be made on Hamill’s license status once that investigation is complete.
Painted Pastures was cited in June 2010 for housing dogs on gravel or dirt floors, which is considered unsanitary, Smith said, and there were at least two complaints filed against the facility in 2008.
The economy has taken a toll on everyone in the animal care business. Shelters are overcrowded. Donations are down. The agriculture department is experiencing its own financial challenges.
It’s sad enough to see reputable shelter operators struggle to do right by the animals in their care during these tough times.
To think that someone is willingly neglecting them is unconscionable.