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Curiosity is what saved Kane’s cats (and dogs)

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Sometimes going after a story doesn’t work out quite the way you think it will. Since you don’t often get to hear about the one that got away, let’s discuss the pursuit of a column that actually proved the county wasn’t doing something so nefarious after all.

It all started when Kane County Animal Shelter veterinarian Jane Davis told the Kane County Board that the shelter puts down 85 percent of the animals they handle due to behavioral problems. What she should’ve said was, 85 percent of animals with behavioral problems are euthanized.

As Gilda Radner’s SNL character Emily Litella would’ve quipped, “Ooooh! That’s very different!” It certainly is! When three newspapers reported that nauseating kill rate — including The Beacon-News and Courier-News — I had folks literally screaming at me to do something about it. It’s so much fun being a columnist.

To begin unraveling that number, I started with DuPage Animal Shelter Director Kerry Vinkler, who said they place 85 percent of their adoptable animals. Given that vast disparity and Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay’s penchant for hiring FOKs (Friends of Karen), one’s thoughts automatically turn toward the underhanded.

For example, All Paws Pet Cremations, the firm contracted to cremate euthanized Kane County animals, is co-owned by none other than perennial coroner candidate and FOK Stan Hickrod. Last year, County Board candidate Hickrod gamed challenger Nate Akemann out of the GOP primary only to drop out himself, leaving incumbent Cathy Hurlbut unopposed.

Of course, Hurlbut is the County Board hatchet woman who won’t so much as blink without first gazing upon McConnaughay’s glowing countenance for approval.

But a quick FOIA request to Treasurer Dave Rickert’s office determined All Paws only pulled in a paltry $100 a month for the past seven months. If that’s Hickrod’s “reward” for playing election spoiler, he needs a much better agent.

Rickert told me, “I cannot believe the chairman would oversee the euthanization of healthy cats and dogs just so a friend could make a profit.” Despite some sources thinking that very thing, I also refused to believe she’d go that far.

So with none of this adding up, I finally turned to Kane County Health Department Information Officer Tom Schlueter who said the 85 percent kill number was incorrect. But when I asked him to prove it, he said he’d have to get back to me.

Schlueter did finally point me to raw data, but while doing the math to prove his point, he argued with me so vociferously that I abruptly discontinued our telephone conversation. As it turns out, 71 percent of 2010 shelter animals were either reclaimed or adopted, which is well within the realm of reality.

When Schlueter called back to apologize, I asked him, with that misleading number bouncing around since March 8, why hadn’t he called the newspapers for a correction?

“There was something in the (online) comments,” he replied.

I’ve always winced at McConnaughay’s propensity to hire reporters that once purported to be county watchdogs. Schlueter, Bill Presecky and Patrick Waldron all fall into this queasy category. Not only does the FOK issue rear its ugly head, but one has to wonder exactly what these folks had to do to acquire FOK status. Rest assured, dear reader, you will never see this journalist take a county job. A run for office? You never know!

Though we’re correctly letting Ms. McConnaughay and the health department off the hook here, it looks like she and Kuenhert learned nothing from the troubled tenure of former shelter director Mary Lawrie. Lawrie, who had no previous experience with animals, was put on administrative leave and then suddenly “retired” after the shelter botched virtually every aspect of a Chihuahua rescue’s attempt to save four dogs.

Interim Director Sharon Verzal appears to be the heir apparent, but that alphabet soup after her name — LEHP, MPH and REHS/RS — has absolutely nothing to do with veterinary science. Her previous health department position was environmental supervisor. Kuehnert said, “She meets all of the requirements for the Kane County Animal Control administrator position.” Here we go again.

Kuehnert also pointed out the correct data was on the Web all along. But, if it was so obvious, then why didn’t he correct Davis the second she misspoke at that board meeting? He was sitting right there. Nothing like letting a contract employee take the heat for you, is there, Paul?

In the end, despite Davis’ and Kuehnert’s best efforts to give the board and the public the wrong impression, I’m pleased to report the shelter is not in the business of regularly bumping off family pets. Considering my efforts on her behalf, do ya think the chairman will ever send me a thank-you note?

Jeff Ward can be reached on Twitter @jeffwardsun, on Facebook or at

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