McLean County animal shelter Top Paw faces investigation amid allegations of inhumane care and hoarding
Authorities have seized animals and are investigating a McLean County rescue after allegations that some were mistreated and became sick.
McLean County Animal Control seized the animals March 16 after issuing a Notice of Impoundment at Top Paw Rescue, located in rural Hudson. Animal Control’s seizure notice – a photo of which was reviewed by WGLT – cites allegations of animal hoarding and “humane care and treatment violations.”
Top Paw, which opened in 2022, was a licensed animal shelter through the Illinois Department of Agriculture, an agency spokesperson said. Top Paw is today no longer listed on the department’s list of active licensees.
“We are aware of the situation. This investigation is currently open, and we cannot comment further,” said Krista Lisser, a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
McLean County Administrator Cassy Taylor confirmed the open investigation but said the county was not able to comment. She said generally that the county’s Animal Control department, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and local law enforcement are involved with matters of this nature.
McLean County Sheriff Matt Lane said his officers provided security assistance for Animal Control’s visit to Top Paw, but he said Animal Control was leading the investigation.
Neither the state or county responded to questions about what triggered the investigation or the nature of the allegations against Top Paw. Lisser said her agency was assisting McLean County authorities and that “any information (from the public) that could facilitate a criminal charge should be provided to the McLean County authorities.”
A woman listed as the owner/operator of Top Paw did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s unclear how many dogs were seized or what condition they were in. McLean County on Thursday denied WGLT’s request for any records related to the case, citing the pending investigation.
Abby Smith, who owns a salon in Normal, said she reported problems at Top Paw to the authorities after a friend told her about a potential hoarding situation there. Smith said she’s obtained video evidence that she said shows inhumane conditions inside Top Paw. She said they show a space littered with syringes and completely soiled with urine and feces.
“If you love and care about animals – or you don’t and you just have a conscience – you would not want any animals to be inside that house,” Smith said.
In the weeks since, Smith said she’s become somewhat of a conduit for animal owners who fostered or adopted from Top Paw and have questions about what happened.
“They knew something was off. They were all made to feel like it was their fault. The families that do have sick animals or questioned why their animals were sick after they got them were all made to feel like it was their doing. Or it had nothing to do with Top Paw. ‘It couldn’t have come from there – the kennel cough, the giardia, the parvo.’ It was never Top Paw’s fault. So a lot of these people were really shut down until recently, until I opened up the floor for all of them to come together and swap stories. They all realized they were right. Their uneasy feelings were proven to be true.”
Smith said she’s gone down a rabbit hole but still has a lot of questions.
“How did this happen? How did I unravel this and it wasn’t caught before? How many animals are still out there? Are there families that have lost animals that think it was their fault?” Smith said. “I understand, to a point, with an investigation that you have to remain quiet. But I also don’t understand why no one is trying harder. I think these families deserve to know the truth about this.”
An animal shelter in Winnebago County said on its Facebook page that three puppies were found abandoned in a crate in Rockford. The shelter said the dogs had been traced back to Top Paw, calling Top Paw’s actions “frustrating, infuriating and expensive.”
Other animal shelters in McLean County are doing what they can to help.
The dogs that were seized in the Top Paw raid are currently unavailable and will not be eligible for transfer until the case is closed, which can take several months, said Bri Hart, shelter director at Wish Bone Canine Rescue in Bloomington. Wish Bone is currently transferring as many dogs as it can into its care who are unrelated to the investigation to help free up much needed space, Hart said.
“Once the seized dogs are available, we will make sure to do our part and we will continue to help in any way that is needed,” Hart said.
The Humane Society of Central Illinois (HSCI), based in Normal, is helping McLean County Animal Control by taking in the adoptable animals that they had in their facility or scheduled to come in before the investigation began, said HSCI manager Jane Kahman. HSCI has a longstanding relationship with Animal Control and transferred in nearly 300 animals last year, Kahman said.
Hart with Wish Bone urged people to consider adopting or foster a dog.
“In a time where the rescue industry was already overwhelmed and overcapacity, we need your help and support now more than ever,” Hart said. “We may not be able to save them all, but if we all come together during this time, we can certainly try.”