The owners of an alleged puppy mill are speaking out for the first time. They're raising questions about the actions of Kankakee County officials and a national animal rescue group that partnered up to raid their business.
On the morning of April 7, a self-styled SWAT team from the Animal Rescue Corps descended on a dog breeding operation in rural Kankakee County.
In video and photos shot and put on its Facebook page by the Animal Rescue Corps, volunteers and two employees of Kankakee County's Animal Control Department can be seen executing a search warrant on Adrian's Puppy Paradise, which they say is a puppy mill that has been abusing dogs for years.
"They said they come to get my dogs. If I didn't sign that paper they was taking them anyway, whether I signed it or not," said owner Louise Gutierrez.
Gutierrez and her husband, Adrian, have owned the dog breeding business since 2001.
Now, she and others are questioning the raid on her property in which she signed a surrender order, turning over all 80 of her dogs to the animal rescue corps.
Gutierrez said her husband opened the front door and was served a search warrant, and within minutes people were streaming through her home and business.
She said she was forced to stay upstairs for eight hours.
Gutierrez: "I was scared."
FOX 32: "You were scared? Why were you scared?"
Gutierrez: "I didn't know who they was."
"It is our belief she shouldn't be in operation. These conditions were extremely inhumane as well as illegal," said Scotlund Haisley of Animal Rescue Corps.
Haisley is something of a rock star in the animal rescue world.
In 2011, he founded the non-profit Animal Rescue Corps in Washington DC to assist local animal control and law enforcement agencies all over the country -- which he said often don't have the resources to deal with large scale animal cruelty.
Haisley said that was the case when Kankakee County officials reached out to him about Adrian's Puppy Paradise.
"In this case we were working with law enforcement in building the case. The case was built here. And a warrant was executed," Haisley said.
But that warrant, signed by a Kankakee County judge days before the raid, was obtained by a Kankakee County animal control officer, which is a position that has no police authority to serve a search warrant.
It's also unclear whether the judge was ever informed that the business had passed numerous inspections and held a valid license from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which regulates animal breeding businesses.
A spokesperson said they were never contacted by the Animal Rescue Corps.
Gutierrez, who is 74 and in poor health, said she voluntarily turned over more than two dozen of her dogs to Kankakee Animal Control several months ago. She also questions why she was never contacted by the Animal Rescue Corps before they raided her home and business.
"If they asked me to give my dogs up before all this stuff--they didn't have to do all this. I would have gave them up," Gutierrez.
"I have a lot of concerns about the legality of what was done," said attorney Marla Tauscher.
Tauscher is a California-based animal control lawyer who has been following the Animal Rescue Corps for several years. She believes the group stages raids, even when they're not warranted, because they get make headlines and help fundraising.
Just hours after the Kankakee kennel was raided, this fundraising pitch popped up on the group's Facebook page.
It read: "I'm asking you to stand with us, invest in compassion and give generously as you possibly can while we give these animals a new life."
"If this were really all about law enforcement and doing the right thing, why is everything a solicitation for donations? Why all the PR? Why is this stuff being plastered on Facebook within hours or even simultaneous with these raids?" Tauscher added.
FOX 32: "would there have been another way to do this rather than serving a search warrant on her and scaring the heck out of her?"
"Um, I don't know. what's effective is utilizing the law. she violated the law and we utilized the law to address it," Haisley said.
Many of the dogs seized during the raid have now been adopted out by various animal welfare agencies in the Chicago area that partnered with the Animal Rescue Corps.
Gutierrez and her husband have not yet been charged, and last week filed a complaint with the Kankakee County Sheriffs alleging their civil rights were violated.
She said the raid and the publicity around it have been devastating.
"People was calling me, calling me a puppy mill and hoping I would die," Gutierrez added.