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Illinois became the first state in the country to mandate safety protections for dogs and cats in kennel facilities.
Kennels in Illinois must be staffed at all times or have a sprinkler system or fire alarm that automatically notifies first responders under a new law in the state.
The law, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week, comes seven months after 29 dogs died in a fire at Bully Life Animal Services Kennel in West Chicago. The owner, Garrett Mercado, was arrested in July and charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty and 14 counts of violating his duties as an animal owner after investigators found that the dogs in his care were kept in unsafe and inhumane conditions.
Mercado was not at the kennel when the fire started. The facility had smoke detectors, according to the governor’s office, but no one was present to hear them.
The new law, which goes into effect immediately, prevents that by requiring either 24-hour staffing or the installation of an alarm system that “automatically triggers notification to local emergency responders when activated.”
"HB 3390 is an effort to ensure our pets, who're often times like family members, are being kept safe while they're temporarily being cared for at a boarding facility," state Sen. Don DeWitte, the bill’s co-sponsor, said in a statement. "This new law gives pet owners peace of mind to know that their pet is in a safe environment even when staff isn't on hand."
Mercado has not responded in the Chicago media about the charges he faces and could not be reached by Route Fifty. In January he told the Daily Herald that he knew the building, which he meant to be a place where rescue dogs could get adopted, "needed a lot of work."
“It wasn’t the prettiest building, but the work we were doing in it was something special, and in the time we were there we were able to get a lot of dogs rehabbed and adopted or into foster care,” he told the newspaper.
The new law makes Illinois the first state in the country to mandate safety standards for animal boarding facilities. Most municipalities have codes that regulate the number of animals that can stay in kennels and the conditions they must be kept in, but the law is the first to require specific safety protocols, said state Rep. Diane Pappas, who introduced the bill in the House.
"Today's legislation is a win for dog and cat owners across Illinois, who can now rest assured that if they have to leave their beloved pets at a kennel, they will be protected in the event of a fire," she said in a statement.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.