ROCK FALLS – When the Illinois state director of the Humane Society of the U.S. comes to Rock Falls, it is usually a big deal.
Such was the case Thursday as Marc Ayers came to surprise Whiteside County Animal Control Warden James Garcia with a well-deserved honor. Ayers presented Garcia with a National Humane Law Enforcement Award which are rare to receive.
Garcia certainly was suspicious and humbled when a crowd of people packed into his tiny office.
“I can’t take a lot of credit. This is really everybody’s (on his staff),” Garcia said. “It’s really an honor, and the people here put a lot of work in.”
He wouldn’t do it himself, so others stepped up to sing Garcia’s praises.
Beth Fiorini, Whiteside County Health Department administrator, is Garcia’s boss.
“He’s done an excellent job of taking animal control one step further with the collaboration of programs,” Fiorini said. “He cares very much about the program, staff and the animals. We’re very proud of him.”
Since starting as the animal control warden in September 2017, Garcia has taken on a lead role in revising county ordinances regarding animal cruelty and in finding alternatives to euthanizing the animals that find their way to the kennels at the Animal Control facility at 1701 Industrial Park Road.
He works hard collaborating with other agencies such as Happy Tails Humane Society to find them new homes.
“He works very diligently to not euthanize, and he has seen a dramatic decrease in that,” said Mark Razo, president of the Happy Tails Animal Shelter board. The shelter works closely with Animal Control.
Garcia also has been aggressive in law enforcement training to deal with animal cruelty cases and pursuing criminal charges if warranted, Razo said. Within a week of training, one local officer brought Garcia a case and he followed through to get it prosecuted.
Garcia also is credited by those he works with for forging a partnership with the Sterling YWCA and domestic violence victims.
At times, those victims will not leave a dangerous situation out of fear of leaving their pets to an unknown fate. Garcia eliminated that fear with his work with Happy Tails, where that pet can stay for free as its owner seeks a safe place to stay.
Another problem in Whiteside County is animal hoarding, and Garcia has worked hard to address that concern as well.
“Now we can get them vet care and get them new homes and the animals are being taken care of,” Razo said. “That’s monumental for our county.”
Ayers said he looks forward to a visit to Whiteside County and tells agencies around the state to follow Garcia’s lead when looking to revise their county’s animal ordinances.
“He’s a blessing to Whiteside County, and he’s a blessing to work with,” Ayers said.
“When I get people asking how to do their own ordinances, I tell them to look to Whiteside County. It’s a model for the state.”