Lake Station Police Department helps driver/trainer to evade humane investigation
CHICAGO, Illinois––“Parts of the Chicago area are under excessive heat warnings and heat advisories,” warned Eunice Alpasan and Paul Caine of WTTW-Chicago in the early evening of July 27, 2023, “with temperatures expected to top out at 96 degrees, along with a heat index into the triple digits, according to the National Weather Service.
WTTW and other Chicago-area radio and television stations had amplified similar warnings and advisories all day, but Michael “Mike” McHenry, owner and lead trainer at F.M.K9 LLC in Berrien Center, Michigan, apparently was not listening.
McHenry picked up a truckload of either 18 or 19 German shepherds at O’Hare International Airport (accounts differ as to the number), then headed back to Berrien Center, about 135 miles away, via interstate highways I-294 and I-94.
[Some reports say McHenry was en route to one of three closer K9 training facilities in Michigan City, Indiana, but those were not his own facility, and one of them may have been an interim destination after trouble developed.]
Stacked plastic crates
Even if travel conditions had been ideal, and they were not even close, McHenry was driving into Chicago area rush hour traffic.
The back of the unvented van was air conditioned, but lacked either a passage to the cab or a window that would have allowed the driver to check on the dogs, and apparently also lacked a dashboard heat sensor that would have monitored the temperature in the cargo area.
In addition, the German shepherds were in plastic airline crates, which tend to magnify heat. The crates were stacked on top of each other, minimizing any air flow there might have been when the truck was moving.
McHenry relatively predictably hit a two-hour traffic delay. Even with working air conditioning, dogs in airline crates can overheat in a vehicle that is not moving in 90-degree heat––especially German shepherds, with thick coats and a large body mass.
Ordinary prudence would have suggested at least taking an exit after one hour stalled in traffic, to ensure that all of the dogs still had water, but McHenry pressed on for another hour.
Sixty-one miles in two hours
After two hours plus, McHenry had traveled just 61 miles, with 74 miles to go.
Posted the Humane Society of Hobart, Inc. in Hobart, Indiana, to Facebook on August 2, 2023, after five days of trying to go through channels to obtain an official investigation of the incident:
“At 7:42 p.m. on July 27, 2023, the Humane Society of Hobart was called to Road Ranger gas station in Lake Station, Indiana. Eighteen adult German Shepherds traveling on transport from Illinois to Michigan suffered heat stroke and were dying at the scene.
“Based on what we witnessed and how the scene was processed,” the Humane Society of Hobart posting continued, “we feel this warrants an independent investigation, legal, corrective, and disciplinary action take place where applicable, and that our contract and code be reviewed with the City of Lake Station immediately.”
Story goes national
No such investigation has occurred, to date, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals amplified the story nationally.
“At least eight dogs died from heat stroke and multiple others were rushed to veterinary hospitals after an air conditioning unit malfunctioned,” reported Natalie Martinez of NBC Chicago.
“Lake Station police, called to investigate, said the temperature began rising after an AC unit in the cargo area stopped working when the vehicle became caught in traffic for two hours.
“With the cargo area separated from the driver, he didn’t immediately realize what was happening until some of the dogs started barking, police said.
“The driver subsequently stopped at the Road Ranger gas station on Ripley Street in Lake Station, just south of Interstate 94,” Martinez continued. “He entered the cargo area, police said, saw that canines were in distress, and began removing those who had been placed in crates.
Calls made to 911
“While passersby stopped to help, calls were made to 911, resulting in a response from police, firefighters, and Emergency Medical Services personnel.”
Jennifer Webber, executive director of the Humane Society of Hobart, “the contracted provider for animal care and control services in Lake Station,” Martinez explained, criticized Lake Station police “for not following protocol and allowing the truck driver to leave with some of the animals without securing the vehicle, in violation of municipal code.”
Webber told Martinez that upon arriving at the scene, she explained the required protocol to Sergeant Michael McKenzie of the Lake Station Police Department, but McKenzie “said what occurred was simply a mistake and that the owner of the dogs was going to handle the situation,” Martinez narrated, “at which point Webber asked if the owner had valid vaccination records, permitted health certifications to establish safe temperatures for transport, and a certified veterinary license to transport [the dogs] across state lines.”
Note: The duty of first responders is to secure the scene, provide emergency aid to humans or animals as needed, and collect evidence, not to judge a case. Reviewing evidence to determine whether charges should be prosecuted is the role of a district attorney.
“This made the owner very mad”
Said Webber in a written report, “I stated that it appeared he was not in compliance with several of our codes and that we should seize all pets, transport medical patients to emergency care, do an investigation and return the animals once compliance was proved and fines and fees paid. This made the owner very mad.
“The owner was derogatory and belligerent,” Webber wrote, “and then said he didn’t want anyone from the humane society to touch his dogs.”
Resumed Martinez, “Webber explained that McKenzie complied with the owner’s request, while multiple vehicles with air conditioning stood by to transport additional dogs. As a result of the delay, she stated, more lives were lost.
“Seven dogs were taken to veterinary hospitals by ambulances instead of the [humane society] vehicles waiting to transport them, according to Webber,” Martinez added. “She said that several of the animals had to be euthanized due to heat stroke, and in total, estimated that between 8 and 11 dogs died.
McKenzie allowed McHenry to take surviving dogs
“Webber said she then informed the police sergeant [McKenzie] that the remaining four dogs on scene were in need of medical attention, but he permitted the owner to continue transporting those dogs and a number of those who had already died.
“All of the dogs needed to be hospitalized. They were exhibiting signs” of heat exhaustion, including “diarrhea and vomiting. Even though they were up and moving, They were not going to make it unless we got them to the hospital,” Webber told Martinez.
“Instead, the officer [Mckenzie] allowed him [McHenry] to take the dogs back into the truck they were dying in and allowed them to transport [the dogs] illegally back to Michigan.”
Added Martinez, “McHenry drove away in the ‘same broken truck with the doors off, without properly securing the animals,’ which is required when transporting animals on the expressway, according municipal code, Webber stated.”
“Water bowls the size you’d give a parrot”
In a Facebook post written in the hours following the incident, the Lake Station Police Department said it spoke with the person(s) involved and believed what occurred was not an act of animal cruelty or neglect, but a mechanical failure of the AC unit in the cargo area.
Earlier, on July 29, 2023, Webber told John O’Connor of Lake County Associated Press that the German shepherds were “Salivating heavily, wobbling, vomiting, and convulsing.
“There were already several dogs dead on the scene, and multiple dogs failing fast,” Webber said. “Their crates inside the truck were completely trashed on the inside and the little water bowls were the size you’d give a parrot. And they were empty and torn up,” as photographs documented.
The Lake Station Police Department insisted in a social media posting that the deaths of the German shepherds was a “freak event,” though precedents are many, and that “This was not an act of animal cruelty or neglect but a mechanical failure of the AC unit that was being used in the cargo area.”
“He shouldn’t have been traveling at all”
Continued O’Connor, “Webber said she encountered resistance when attempting to gather facts for the investigation she is authorized to conduct. The police officer in charge of the scene told her she could leave because the deaths were an accident that ‘The owner will take care of.’”
The failure of McHenry to produce a veterinary certificate, Webber explained to O’Connor, was significant because “Webber said she doubted a veterinarian would have approved travel” under the climatic conditions.
“He shouldn’t have been traveling at all. That is neglectful,” Webber said. “Then, the police let the owner drive away, this time with the door to the cargo area open, with several dead dogs and others who should have been hospitalized in crates that were not secured in the cargo area.”
“Even more,” O’Connor wrote, “five of the dogs were transported to veterinary hospitals in ambulances used for people, not in the specialized humane society vans offered on site.
“Lake Station police blocked seizure order”
“Webber filed a notice of seizure of the dogs when they were released,” O’Connor continued. “According to Lake Station ordinance, the humane society may confine any dog who is ‘ill, injured, or otherwise in need of care,’ or ‘reasonably believed to have been abused or neglected.’
“But Webber claimed that Lake Station police blocked the order, directing the hospitals treating the animals to release them to the owner.”
Posted Webber herself in response to the Lake Station Police Department statement, “Multiple municipal code violations were made by both the owner of the pets [German shepherds] and Lake Station Police Department. Specifically, the Humane Society of Hobart was denied the right to impound these pets in distress and get these animals medical treatment and conduct a proper investigation. Our vehicles sat on the scene running with AC and the owner would not let us take them and the Lake Station Police Department sided with him.
McHenry allegedly sold a dog on the spot for $7,500
“We arranged hospitalization at Hobart Animal Clinic,” Webber said, “and brought IV fluids to the scene and told the officer that the remaining four [dogs] needed to be hospitalized.”
Meanwhile, Webber said, “The owner [Mchenry] ‘so concerned about his dogs’ sold one on the scene to a good Samaritan for $7,500. I saw the check and saw it with my own eyes.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals representative Daphna Nachminovitch wrote to Lake Station mayor Bill Carroll and the city council that the Lake Station Police Department should recuse itself from any investigation, alleging that Lake Station police chief James Richardson “apparently has a long-standing relationship with the owner and operator of the company that was transporting the dogs,” F.M.K9 LLC.
Lake Station police chief James Richardson told The New York Times that “Lake Station had no affiliation with the business,” but the Lake Station Police Department has been soliciting donations to fund acquisition of a police dog.
PETA records request “turned away”
“Nachminovitch told Insider,” Insider News reported, “that PETA sent a representative to the police station to file a records request for body camera footage from the scene, but that person was turned away. Insider is awaiting a response to its own records request.”
McHenry on his resumé boasts of “Over 25 years in the canine field and industry,” including 18 years heading the canine unit during 20 years with the Elkhart County, Indiana sheriff’s department.
McHenry also claims a background of eight years in the U.S. Army, including as a combat veteran, a baccalaureate in criminal justice, and a master’s degree in psychology.
Civilian convicted in similar case
Offering hint of the potential penalties McHenry might have faced, had he been prosecuted, was the October 2016 sentencing of Griselda Martinez, then 42, of Round Lake, Illinois, after two pit bulls died and nine others suffered heat exhaustion while being transported in similar airline crates.
“Palatine police found the dogs on August 16, 2015, inside a van parked at an auto parts store,” recounted Barbara Vitello for the Chicago Daily Herald.
“Martinez testified she was taking the dogs from Round Lake to Streator when the vehicle’s air conditioning failed, forcing her and a companion to stop at the store to purchase coolant,” Vitello wrote.
“Palatine detective Art Delgadillo, the first officer on the scene, testified he found the dogs without food or water, sitting in urine and feces, stacked in crates inside the vehicle.”
Veterinarian Christina McCratic “testified all the animals suffered from skin and ear infections and in some cases other issues related to neglect,” Vitello added.
Cook County Judge Marc Martin sentenced Griselda Martinez to 30 days in jail and two years on probation.
Las Vegas case
The F.M. K9 meltdown in Lake Station, Indiana, was scarcely the only incident of the 2023 summer involving not just one or two dogs in an overheated vehicle, but a truckload.
ANIMALS 24-7 reported earlier about the July 14, 2023 arrest Katrina Brazil, 47, of Las Vegas, after she “allegedly left nine dogs inside two hot vehicles on a sweltering 111-degree day,” according to Michael Bell of Fox 5 television news.
Two of the dogs died, a pit bull adult and a pit bull puppy.
Oklahoma City case
On June 5, 2023, reported Catherine Stoddard of Fox 25 in Oklahoma City, “Oklahoma City police officers were able to rescue 36 dogs, including newborn puppies, from the back of a U-Haul truck. Temperatures inside the truck were recorded well over 100 degrees.”
Left parked outside of a Walmart store, the truck was reported to police by Walmart employees who “noted that the truck sounded and smelled as though it was full of animals,” Stoddard explained.
Truck renters Dexter and Linda Manuel were arrested and charged with 36 counts of animal cruelty, a misdemeanor count of transporting animals in a cruel or inhumane manner, and a count of violating animal licensing requirements, Stoddard said.
“Oklahoma Animal Welfare told FOX 25 that they believed the couple were running a puppy mill,” Stoddard finished.
LifeLine Animal Project lost 12 dogs to heat
Several days after the F.M. K9 meltdown, LifeLine Animal Project of Atlanta, Georgia, on July 31, 2023 acknowledged the deaths of a dozen dogs who “were en route to an out-of-state adoption event.”
“Multiple team members were traveling to an out-of-state adoption event,” LifeLine posted to social media. “We borrowed a trailer for the transport and the teams stopped frequently to check on the dogs along the way. We are devastated to share that within an hour from the last check-in, the team discovered that the air conditioning unit failed. The temperature gauge for the trailer that was displayed in the cab remained around 72 to 65 degrees and did not indicate any issues. The teams responded quickly and they were able to save 22 dogs using the emergency supplies on board. Tragically, 11 dogs passed away on site,” while another died after being taken to a local emergency veterinary clinic.
LifeLine thanked the Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for taking care of the surviving dogs before they were returned to Atlanta.
ASPCA holds record for cooking dogs in a truck
The 21st century record for most dogs killed in a hot truck still belongs to the American ASPCA, of New York City, the same entity that in 2016-2017 promoted a seven-part webinar on safe rescue transport.
26 dogs reportedly died aboard an ASPCA vehicle said to have been hauling them from one or more Mississippi shelters to Wisconsin to be offered for adoption, in an incident the ASPCA has yet to explain.
Emily Jacobs and Ben Feuerherd of the New York Post disclosed the dog deaths on May 16, 2019, the day after they are understood to have occurred, after receiving a copy of an email sent to ASPCA staff by ASPCA president Matt Bershadker.
$966,000 salary should be enough to answer questions
Bershadker was paid $966,000 in 2020, according to the ASPCA filing of IRS Form 990, which should be enough to include answering questions in his job description. Bershadker pledged at the time to be “thoroughly investigating.”
ANIMALS 24-7 waited twelve days for his findings before making our own first inquiries on May 28, 2019.
ANIMALS 24-7 then waited until June 6, 2019 for any sort of response before asking in a headline, Why is the ASPCA stonewalling about the deaths of 20 dogs in transport? Three-week silence howls for answers.
That did not shake any answers loose, either.
“Drove several hours with the heat on”
Finally on February 5, 2020, former Little Rock Animal Village coordinator Skip Lunders told ANIMALS 24-7 that “At the time of that accident, I was working as a contract driver” for the company that supplied drivers to the ASPCA.
“The truth,” Lunders charged, is “They had two inexperienced drivers together in that truck. You could also call them careless. They drove several hours with the heat on in the back area. It was not a simple overheating problem.”