Sanctuary Operator: Animal Neglect Charges a "Huge Misunderstanding" - NBC Chicago

Sanctuary Operator: Animal Neglect Charges a "Huge Misunderstanding"

Dawn Hamill says she contacted law enforcement Monday for help with overcrowding



    For the last six years, Dawn Hamill has run an animal rescue out of a three-acre property in unincorporated Tinley Park, where she prides herself in taking in "the worst of the worst."

    But now her livelihood and reputation are on the line.  The Cook County Sheriff's Police Animal Crimes Unit on Friday carried out a search warrant at her Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary based on tips that there were mistreated animals on her property.

    "We didn't do anything wrong," Hamill said not long after returning to her property.

    She was taken into law enforcement custody earlier in the day and charged with two misdemeanors alleging animal neglect.

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    Based on a tip that animals were living in poor conditions, authorities execute a search warrant on animal welfare organization in uncorporated Tinley Park.
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    Hamill said the charges stem from the discovery of two dead animals during the execution of the search warrant.   She said the animals, a dwarf miniature horse and an elderly cat, had both been ill and receiving special medical care and "passed over the night."

    "The whole thing is a huge misunderstanding," said Hamill, who claims she called animal control herself on Monday to inform them she needed help, because, unknown to her, an employee had brought in too many dogs.  The sanctuary is a no-kill shelter.

    "I cooperated. I asked them for help. I asked them to take in the overload.  I was in a bad place and the animals needed help," explained Hamill.

    She said a medical condition precluded her from being able to properly supervise her staff and her property.

    "It's my bad for not checking up more on my animals and my staff," she acknowledged.

    It was a disgruntled employee, she said, who fed bogus information to law enforcement that her shelter was full of neglected animals.  Hamill said she fired that employee on Monday.

    Thibault Camus/AFP/Getty Images

    During Friday's activity, Hamill said she voluntarily relinquished control of 55 dogs to another south suburban rescue shelter that is better equipped, she says, to handle the large volume of animals.

    "I don't want these animals to die. I want them in a good place," she said.

    Hamill estimates that last year she adopted out 950 animals after nursing them back to health.

    Asked what she can do to rehabilitate her own image, she said, "Gossip is gossip. Knowledge is different."

    Down the street, Patrick Bruce, out for a walk with his Irish Setter, Rosie, paused to reflect on Hamill's arrest. Bruce got Rosie from Hamill more than a year ago.

    "She (Hamill) has a heart of gold. I wish there were more people who cared for animals like her," he said.

    Meantime, at Painted Pastures, a couple dozen horses grazed quietly outside the property, apparently well enough that sheriff's police left them there.

    All the horses had blankets on to keep them warm on the chilly February night.