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Illinois Passes Kennel Fire Safety Bill

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After 31 dogs died in a kennel fire at Bully Life Animal Services in in suburban West Chicago, Illinois, I thought to myself, ‘This can’t ever happen again.’

The facility had fire alarms, but as smart as dogs are, they can’t phone the fire department. The kennel trainer/caretaker had left to run an errand. The fire was roaring by the time firefighters arrived, so it’s amazing that some animals did survive.

These sorts of fires happen all too frequently. Last Christmas Eve a kennel fire took the lives of nine dogs in Maryland. On March 5 no dog made it out alive from a kennel fire in Stacy, Minnesota. Thirty dogs lost their lives in a kennel fire in Michigan last spring. That’s nearly 100 dogs in a year and likely more in fires that went unreported.

Fire Safety Needed

Most of these dogs might have survived if basic fire protections had been in place. When I contacted Marc Ayers, Illinois director of the Humane Society of the United States, he confirmed that no state mandates fire protection in kennels.

Ayers agreed to do something about it, and so did Illinois state representative Diane Pappas (D-45th District). She says, “We entrust our treasured family members to the care of the facilities, and people assume they will be protected.”

Legislative Process

Pappas and Ayers created the bill, which requires animal kenneling facilities to have an alarm system that rings directly to the fire department or a sprinkler system or a human on the premises 24/7. Many kennels are already in compliance, though many are not.

The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, being co-sponsored by state representative Allen Skillicorn (R-66th district).

Some voted against the bill, not wanting to add costs to small businesses. Pappas and Ayers point out that businesses would likely pass the cost on to clients. Depending on the size of the kennel, those costs would likely be under a dollar a day.

“Right or wrong, most people who bring their dog to a kennel don’t think about the fire protections that are in place,” Pappas says.

After the bill passed the Illinois House, even the state senator who sponsored the bill, Donald DeWitte (D-33rd District), was surprised that it passed without a single no vote. I asked DeWitte when he remembers that a unanimous vote last happened in the Illinois Senate. “I don’t remember,” he said.

Saving More Lives

I spoke to fire officials who said the bill will likely save pet lives, “No question.” But human lives may be saved as well. When the fire department isn’t alerted early to a fire, the fire can become larger, making it more dangerous and difficult to fight. There may also be more structural damage and a greater chance of the fire spreading to adjacent buildings.

I am told that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a dog owner, is excited to sign the bill to make it law. Other states are looking to replicate this bill. New York already has a kennel fire safety bill teed up and ready to go.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world.

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