GRIFFITH | More than 50 people spent Saturday demonstrating at Lake County Sheriff John Buncich's first 10K Bicycle Ride to raise funds for the department's animal adoption center, objecting to Thursday's firing of the shelter's longtime community liaison, Victoria Beasley.
"We were here before 9 a.m. with our signs and petition to make sure the participants of today's bike ride realized what happened this week at the animal shelter," said Christine Kozanda, of Munster, one of the protesters in the group, which included people from as far as Valparaiso to Dolton.
The 10K event at Oak Ridge Savannah bike trail in Oak Ridge Prairie County Park in Griffith, raised funds to benefit educational efforts and the shelter's spaying/neutering program.
"No one was more dedicated than Victoria. She would be at the facility helping with the animals and any concerns, even on her days off. Her firing is all about politics and it's a disgrace," Kozanda said.
Beasley told The Times Friday she was fired for not following a direct order to return a family of pit bulls to their owner. When found, the pit bull parents had been chained to two trees in 90-degree weather with no food or water, she said. Eight 6-week-old puppies were running free.
Beasley said the dogs were taken May 29 after the owner had been told he had 36 hours to rectify the violations Beasley had discovered. The owner was told how to retrieve the dogs from the shelter once he was in compliance.
The dogs were taken under the same ordinances that have governed animal control for years, said Beasley. The ordinances do not require a warrant, only reasonable cause, she said.
Beasley said after several days the center's current director, Deborah Mandich-Nowland, told her to return the dogs because the sheriff's attorney said a warrant had been required.
Beasley, who said she is commissioned as a deputy sheriff, asked for an order in writing but never received one, she said.
Meanwhile, Mandich-Nowland returned the dogs to the owner on June 3, according to Beasley.
On Thursday, Lake County Police Chief Tim Downs and Deputy Police Chief Dan Murchak visited the shelter to terminate Beasley for not following orders, Beasley said.
While flattered by the support, Beasley said she did not want supporters disrupting Saturday's fundraiser for the shelter.
Linda Neering, of Cedar Lake, and Georginianna Rogers, of Hebron, who organized Saturday's protest, said while making participants aware of the importance of the shelter's spaying/neutering program, they also used the opportunity to spread the message of Beasley's abrupt dismissal, which they want reversed.
They said by noon on Saturday, more than 500 people had signed their names to a petition posted on Facebook.
Lauren McDonald, of Highland, praised Beasley, explaining she would answer phone calls related to the shelter on 24-hour call because of her dedication.
Christine Tomaszewski, of Crown Point, said it's not only other people hurt by the Sheriff's Department decision, but primarily, the animals who will ultimately suffer.
"Victoria has been through three animal shelter directors during her four years with the department," Tomaszewski said.
"And while I will say this latest director, Deborah, has helped straighten out many of the unpaid bills and finances, it still doesn't make it right about what has happened."