The sheriff in Racine County, Wisconsin said it’s one of the most disturbing things he’s seen in 20 years of law enforcement.
Authorities were contacted Wednesday by an elementary school in Wind Lake for a child abuse allegation. During the course of the investigation that followed, authorities said, the county’s Human Services Department learned a 9-year-old child was being locked in a dog cage—sometimes for up to 12 hours at a time—in a home in the town of Norway.
The captivity had been going on for at least a week, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling told reporters Thursday. He said he was "sickened" by the case.
“It was one of the most disturbing things I’ve witnessed in my career so far,” he said.
The cage, measuring 4 feet and 10 inches high, 4 feet in length and 8 feet wide, had cardboard on the floor, a couple of blankets and a padlock to keep the child from escaping, authorities said.
“I wouldn’t treat my own dog that way,” he said.
The child was also kept in the cage during the weekends, Schmaling said, while the caregivers “had other things to do.”
He said the child was fed and cared for “with the exception of being abused and housed in a dog kennel like an animal.”
The child lived in the home with a 10-year-old sibling, their 47-year-old grandmother and the 48-year-old man who owned the property, Schmaling said.
Gale D. Lalonde and Dale A. Deavers, both from Wind Lake, were taken into custody, police said, for causing mental harm to a child, false imprisonment and other felony charges, police said.
The sibling was not kept in the cage, Schmaling said.
Schmaling said Deavers, who was not cooperating with police, could have stopped the alleged abuse if he wanted to. Schmaling said Lalonde was cooperating with authorities.
“Our information so far is that the child was housed in this dog kennel for at least a week, about 12 hours a day,” he said. “Was put in there in the evening and then let out in the morning to get ready for school.”
The child is currently being interviewed by officials.
“The child’s statements have [proved] to be credible at this point,” Schmaling said. “We’ve executed a search warrant at that home and we have collected evidence that’s consistent with what the child had told us.”
The sheriff told reporters, as a father of three, he couldn’t fathom what motive there was for why a child was kept in such conditions.
“What goes through your mind?” he asked. “What would that child have to do to get you to go out and purchase a dog kennel—put that child in that kennel?”
He said authorities were trying to find out more about the biological parents but Lalonde had sole custody of the children.
“At the end of the day, I find some comfort knowing that this 9-year-old and sibling are in a safe warm environment, in a warm bed this evening," Schmaling said. “To the contrary, the caregivers are in custody, they’re locked in a jail cell where they ought to be.”
Asked about pets on the property that might need a cage like the one the child was allegedly locked in, he said he saw cats and chickens on the property but no dogs.
An investigation was ongoing, he said.