DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) – When Macon County Sheriff’s deputies responded to several calls from “concerned citizens” over the weekend, they found five dogs left outside a house in the freezing cold, one of which was nearly dead. Since Friday, that dog has been put down, two owners have been arrested for animal cruelty and the community is outraged.
“Now the dog’s dead, and nobody’s shocked,” Jessica Oftedal said. “That didn’t have to happen.”
Sergeant Scott Flannery said the Sheriff’s Office received roughly five calls about animals left outside in the cold without shelter this weekend. Some were unfounded, but one situation turned out to be just as horrific as the caller described it.
It started with one woman who asked to remain anonymous. As she drove home down North Taylor Road on Friday, she noticed something disturbing.
“So I opened my car door and I yelled from about halfway across the driveway, ‘your dog is dying,’” she said. “She [Nyssa Richards] opened up the door and she started yelling for me to get off her property, yelling profanities.”
What she saw was a dog stumbling and shivering until he couldn’t get back up. The temperature hit one degree with a wind chill of 16 below zero that day.
“I was just sitting there watching it suffer while she [Richards] sat in her car,” she said. “I couldn’t leave them out there and not know that they were going to get help.”
She called Macon County Sheriff’s deputies, who then arrested the dog’s owners – 42-year-old Mark Miller Jr. and 39-year-old Nyssa Richards for animal cruelty and neglect.
“The dog was in dire straits. They had to take custody of it immediately, get him in the squad car, try to get him warmed up immediately and everything like that,” Flannery said.
Flannery said the dog was an 11-year-old bulldog named Blue. Unfortunately, by the time Blue made it to the vet, there was nothing more they could do to save him. Deputies found four other dogs on the property in “rough shape” – with frozen water, no food, and only plywood dog houses with a bit of straw for shelter.
“A lot of people have said, ‘how much shelter is enough?’ The thing was, at negative 16 degrees, the shelter they had was clearly not enough. Maybe if it was 40s, 50s, it could’ve been sufficient,” Flannery said.
Now, several members of the community are speaking up about the way they say Miller and Richards treated their animals.
“Anybody that I’ve talked to about the dogs that’s driven by, they’re like ‘oh yeah, I live there, I have to see it all the time. They never leave those chains,’” Oftedal said.
“I think I did what any decent human being would’ve done. I hope this raises awareness that if you see something, say something and stick with it,” one woman said. “Don’t turn a blind eye. We have to look out for our furry friends.”
State’s Attorney Scott Rueter said it could be a few days before charges are filed. The Sheriff’s Office said animal cruelty and neglect is a Class A misdemeanor in the state of Illinois, and aggravating factors could result in a Class 4 felony.
“There are certain enhancing factors that may make things felonies where they would normally be misdemeanors to file initially,” Rueter said. “So we have to review all that and make a decision about what charges we believe are appropriate under the law.”
Flannery said the other four dogs are making a good recovery with the Macon County Animal Control. Miller and Richards are due in court in March, and if found not guilty, the dogs may be returned to them.