Dog-hoarding case delayed; landlord confronts tenant
By Dave Gathman email@example.com April 4, 2013 2:00PM
Three residents of this home in the 600 block of Lavoie Avenue in Elgin were arrested on various charges, including cruel treatment of animals and child neglect. Police said they found nine dogs living in the now red-tagged house and that animal feces was found throughout the living areas of the home. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 6, 2013 6:22AM
ELGIN — A hearing in a child-endangerment charge against one of four adults arrested after they were found living in a home whose basement, authorities said, was covered with a half-inch of dog waste was postponed Thursday when she failed to appear in Elgin Branch Court.
And as another member of the household left the courtroom, the son of the home’s landlord angrily confronted him, shouting that the man owes him thousands of dollars in rent and has a large unpaid city water bill.
Crystal Zwarton, 38, was charged with child endangerment after a Jan. 31 police raid found her living with her two children, age 5 and 7, in conditions allegedly so bad that one police officer vomited as soon as he entered the house at 614 Lavoie Ave. Police said they found nine dogs in the house.
But when Zwarton’s latest court date came up on Thursday, an unidentified woman who described herself as a friend of Zwarton approached Judge Kathryn Karayannis. The woman said Zwarton could not attend because one of the children had suffered an asthma attack and Zwarton was at a hospital with the child. Karayannis then scheduled a new hearing for 9 a.m. May 2.
The other three people arrested were charged with animal cruelty and related misdemeanors for allegedly keeping too many dogs in the house and not taking care of them. The three included an unmarried couple Zwarton said she considers to be her “foster parents,” 66-year-old Cheryl Thacker and 51-year-old Randy McDonald. Thacker testified in February that she owns two of the dogs and that the other seven were owned by a guest who has been living in their basement, 38-year-old Robert Shilling.
McDonald also attended Thursday’s court call but did not address the judge. As he and Zwarton’s friend left the courtroom, Robert Minis, the son of the home’s owner, confronted them in the hallway, shouting that McDonald owes him thousands of dollars and also has a large unpaid water bill. McDonald listened silently to the tirade until a police officer heard the shouting, came out of an adjoining room and asked whether there was something wrong. Minis then stopped shouting, and McDonald and Minis left by different routes.
“These people destroyed that house,” Minis told a reporter, but declined to make any other comments.
McDonald and Thacker are due back in court on April 10. After hearing testimony in February from an Elgin police officer, Judge Karayannis denied a motion by the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office to seize the two dogs owned by the couple. Karayannis ruled that she had heard no evidence that the couple had been cruel to those two animals. But McDonald said Thursday that they have not yet regained custody of the dogs, which are being held in a Roselle animal shelter.
In February, Shilling pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and was sentenced to 40 days in the Kane County jail. Karayannis also ordered that Shilling’s seven dogs be either put up for adoption or put to death.
In past court testimony by Thacker, and in a February interview, Zwarton, McDonald and Thacker placed the entire blame for their home’s unsanitary conditions on Shilling. They said they had invited him to stay in their basement for a week but he ended up living there for five months, not cleaning up after his dogs and refusing to move out.
But Assistant State’s Attorney Brad Melzer argued during the February custody hearing that even if the filth and stench may have been created by that guest in the basement, it was unconscionable that the three other adults could go on living in it, especially in the company of two young children.