Crime & Courts

Case of ill Great Danes grows messier

WOODSTOCK – When the Messinas signed a lease to rent Rick Sperando’s home in Spring Grove, he was told they had one dog.

“I have two little dogs, and I love dogs,” Sperando said. “So I had no problem with that.”

At some point, he learned that the dog had puppies.

“I was OK with that,” Sperando said. “But we never knew this other stuff was going on.”

Seventeen Great Danes were seized from Sperando’s home Sept. 27. The renters, Patricia and Sal Messina, have been charged with 17 misdemeanor counts of violating the Humane Care for Animals Act.

An inventory of the animals shows weights between 32.7 and 180 pounds, although the dogs’ ages are not listed. Documents with descriptions of some of the animals note “sores on front legs from elbows to paws” and “sores on all four feet.”

Days before those dogs were taken from the home, Woodstock-based Great Dane Rescue Midwest was called in to take nine females.

Also, on Sept. 22, six emaciated Great Danes were found running along a rural road in Walworth County, Wis. – just across the border from McHenry County.

A deputy with the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office said residents reported that the dogs had been seen in the area for about a week before being rounded up and turned over to the Lakeland Animal Shelter.

Deputy Alan Gorecki said he had been unaware of the charges against the Messinas but said he would be contacting the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office.

Sperando said he has been unable to get into the house the Messinas rented from him because of laws that protect renters’ rights. But based on pictures and accounts by police and Animal Control officials who were there when the dogs were seized, he estimates that between $200,000 to $300,000 in damage was done.

“They were raising the dogs in the pool room, cleaning the cages and flushing all the stuff out of the cages into the pool,” he said.

Sperando said he has been cited by the county for violations on the property, but has been granted an extension to make repairs.

The Messinas hadn’t paid rent for six months, he said.

“We believed everything the people were telling us, that they were down on their luck,” he said.

A breeder from Pennsylvania, Susan Fioravanti-Weaver, said she was fooled, too.

Patricia Messina seemed like a legitimate, honest breeder, and they had been working together, Weaver said

“She bred for 13 years, had a lot of knowledge,” she said. “Of course, I thought she was on the up and up, or I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

On Tuesday, Weaver traveled from her Pennsylvania home to McHenry County for the Messinas’ first scheduled court date. Weaver is trying to stake her claim to four of the dogs. She says she has papers proving ownership.

In the meantime, prosecutors have filed court documents asking that someone cover the cost of caring for the dogs. Aside from Weaver, two other parties have come forward, a woman from California and one from Michigan.

According to the documents filed Thursday, the cost of care for the dogs at Animal Control through Oct. 9 was $5,203.98. The estimated expense for the next 30 days is $8,576.45.

Weaver said she’s ready to come get her dogs, but Animal Control won’t give them to anyone without a court order.

The Messinas’ next scheduled court date for the case is Nov. 20.

For his part, Sperando said he just wants the Messinas out of his house.

Their attorney said earlier this week that they had moved out following death threats.

“We’ll never rent again,” Sperando said.

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