An online petition demanding an investigation of Fur Keeps Animal Rescue in Barrington Hills has been countered by a petition asking supporters of Fur Keeps to share their success stories.
The petition demanding an investigation of Fur Keeps was edging towards 1000 signatures, Saturday morning. After just one day, the Help Fur Keeps petition had nearly 400 signatures. With both of the petitions on the Care2 petitionsite, most of the signatures were not local, and many were from people overseas.
The petition to investigate Fur Keeps was started by former Fur Keeps volunteer Anna Drechsler of Wheeling. Drechsler worked as a volunteer at the shelter from January through March of this year.
“I started looking for a rescue where I could volunteer and they had a wonderful website. My idea was to just walk the dogs and take them to adoption shows,” Drechsler said.
“My first impression was awful. The more I started to take the dogs out, the more heartbroken I was,” Drechsler said. Drechsler maintains that the dogs are crowded in horse stalls and she believes they aren’t taken out regularly. She also claims that they are not properly cared for. While volunteering at Fur Keeps, Drechsler took photos and posted them as part of the petition.
“The stench in the barn was so strong with urine and feces and no fresh air,” she said.
Dr. Debra Rykoff, a veterinarian, and her partner, John Breseman, who run Fur Keeps refute the claims and believe they are being targeted because they put up the bail money for Diane Eldrup. Eldrup goes to trial this month on felony charges for allegedly starving to death 19 dogs at the Muddy Paws rescue site in Deer Park.
Rykoff said she had lost contact with Eldrup and didn’t know the situation, but posted bond out of concern for Eldrup’s 9-year-old son.
Rykoff also said she is considering a lawsuit against Drechsler for defamation of character.
“You can’t just say anything on the Internet. You don’t have the right to try to ruin somebody else’s life,” Rykoff said.
Rykoff said the photos were not a fair representation of Fur Keeps. The dog photographed was suffering from mange, and was being treated, she said. Breseman added that the photos were taken in the morning, when the facility is at its worse, before it is cleaned.
Fur Keeps has its detractors and its supporters.
Mary Ann Hetreed, a rescue worker who transports dogs from kill shelters to no-kill rescues, said she has asked rescue organizations not to send animals to Fur Keeps.
She said she transported dogs to Fur Keeps in January and February of 2008.
“The barn stalls were loaded with dogs. It was crowded, dark and damp,” Hetreed said. Since then, Hetreed started sending emails telling rescue organizations not to send animals to Fur Keeps.
Volunteer foster for Fur Keeps Mary Ann Wilkens believes the criticism of Fur Keeps is “crazy.”
“Dr. Rykoff is awesome. She’s a good vet. She takes in a lot of animals that other places won’t take in. At other shelters, they’d be put to sleep,” Wilkens said.
Breseman said Fur Keeps takes in many special needs dogs and dogs in need of veterinary care.
Volunteers and supporters of Fur Keeps have been posting photos on the Fur Keeps Facebook page and words of support.
In response to the first petition, the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture planned to send an investigator to Fur Keeps.
“Yes, we are going to send an animal investigator. As a matter of policy, we investigate all complaints. We have opened a docket and, if an investigator hasn’t already been there, they will be there soon,” said Jeff Squibb, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Squibb said, as of last week, the department had not received a formal complaint regarding animal welfare at Fur Keeps. He said he received an email from a colleague with a link to the Care2 Petitionsite, and he referred the matter to investigations.
Rykoff said the Dept. of Agriculture has inspected Fur Keeps in the past and the facility has always passed inspection.
Drechsler said she has also asked the Illinois Attorney General to investigate charitable contributions collected by Rykoff for Fur Keeps. Natalie Bauer, communications director for the Illinois Attorney General, said the office does not confirm whether or not they are performing an investigation.
Rykoff said those claims are unfounded as she regularly contributes personal funds to keep the rescue going. She said she recently took out a $140,000 personal loan to fund the rescue.
Sandy Wisniewski, founder of Animal Education and Rescue (AEAR) based in Libertyville, said she believes Fur Keeps should be investigated, based on the pictures on the petitionsite and reports from people she knows who have visited Fur Keeps.
Wisniewski teaches a class on how to conduct humane investigations.
“She’s in over her head. She doesn’t have to take in all the animals. That’s a choice,” Wisniewski said.
She said rescues have to follow successful business models.
“As your business grows, you need to grow with it, you need to get more volunteers. You can’t keep taking in more and more animals without having the systems in place to adopt out,” she said.
“I can understand it can be overwhelming,” Wisniewski said. She said AEAR stopped taking long-distance animals in 2005.
“I used to get pleas from all over the Midwest. I love animals and you can get caught up in it. You have to start thinking with your head or you could be in trouble,” Wisniewski said.
Rykoff said she had hopes to build a new, self-supporting facility that would combine dog day care with rehabilitation. “Instead, I’ll be spending the money on legal fees,” she said.
Breseman said visitors are welcome at Fur Keeps.
“If anybody has questions, come here and ask the questions. We’re not hiding anything,” he said.