WOODSTOCK – Scott Rood sat on a bench outside the McHenry County Courthouse before court on Tuesday, a white Great Dane on his lap cuddling close underneath a blanket.
It's been almost a month since the dog was rescued from a breeder's Spring Grove home, but she was still very underweight.
Rood's Woodstock-based organization, Great Dane Rescue Midwest, is caring for nine dogs who officials say were neglected and malnourished. McHenry County Animal Control also seized 17.
"They're doing remarkably well," Rood said. "They're gaining weight and playing hard, which is a long ways from standing with your head hanging and your legs shaking, which is how we got them."
Inside the courthouse, breeder Patricia C. Messina, and her husband, Sal C. Messina, had scheduled court dates.
Both are charged with multiple misdemeanor counts of violating owner's duties.
Rood said the dogs lived in cages filled with excrement-covered wood chips and survived by eating their own feces. He also pointed to dark stains around the dog's cuticles, which he and volunteers have tried to clean out.
They are now being fed a carefully-monitored diet to prevent over-eating and bloat, which Rood said is a major killer of Great Danes.
Although the dogs are no longer puppies, they're still too weak for the shots they should have gotten, Rood said.
Volunteers are also working hard on socializing the dogs, sitting with them, playing with them, and giving them the interaction they need.
The Messinas' attorney, Brian K. Wright, asked that opinions be reserved until the facts come out.
"I've seen a lot of gut reactions out there," he said. "My clients have received hate mail and death threats, by phone and regular mail, from as far away as Europe."
The Messinas have had to take protective measures, such as not staying at their house, in case someone decides to "take it to the next level," Wright said.
He also said that another party, a woman, filed documents on Tuesday claiming ownership of some of the animals.
The Messinas' next scheduled court date is Nov. 20.