“I know that I have never thrown any of the animals I have ever loved in a ditch like they were trash,” Pena wrote on Facebook in June over a picture of skulls strewn on the grass.
The discovery provoked a revolt against Earth Animal Sanctuary’s founder this past summer, as advocates who once worked alongside Corinne DiLorenzo launched a petition calling for her arrest and turned the rescue site’s Facebook page into a campaign demanding answers for the deaths. They estimate 700 animals are still missing.
Now DiLorenzo faces a felony charge of aggravated animal cruelty that carries up to three years in prison. Prosecutors say she “intentionally caused the death” of “companion” creatures including dogs, turtles and raccoons.
The Washington Post was unable to reach DiLorenzo, who has yet to enter a plea, and court records do not name an attorney. She told the Ford County Record last year that the allegations of cruelty were slanderous.
Her sanctuary in the tiny village of Thawville was founded in 2014 and took in all sorts of animals from shelters, Pena said. Some were strays, while others were unwanted. Many were probably abused before they arrived.
“They came to the sanctuary with the promise that they could live there for their entire natural lives and be cared for,” Pena told The Post, “but in the end that’s not what they got.”
DiLorenzo built a reputation as a dedicated advocate and vegan, say the former board members and activists now organizing against her. A 2015 video of her singing to a blind piglet to comfort him in the hospital garnered almost 24 million views. DiLorenzo said she visited the piglet every day to “reassure him that he is loved.”
So Pena was shocked, she said, to see one of the freshest bodies in the ditch at Earth Animal Sanctuary — one of the pigs that DiLorenzo called her “heart" animals.
The horror deepened, Pena and other advocates say, as their analysis of the remains revealed many of the animals to be young. Goats often live a decade or longer. But the vast majority in the ditch appear to have been less than 2 years old, Pena said.
The charge filed against DiLorenzo in November and just recently publicized is based on months of investigation that began last January, prosecutors said.
That’s when authorities got a call about “deplorable conditions” at DiLorenzo’s home in Thawville, according to a sheriff’s report. Investigators arrived to find a door falling off its hinges and wood floors strewn with animal feces, hair and “unknown other excrements.” Rabbit droppings covered an upstairs bedroom. Feces also filled the dirty cages of dogs, cats, mice, birds and a chinchilla.
DiLorenzo told investigators that the two pigs outside were fed daily, but officials found them “thin” and noted that one drank quickly when the ice on its water bowl was broken.
Alarmed by the house’s condition and bare electrical wiring, they told DiLorenzo she could not stay, and she responded that she would leave that night, the sheriff’s report says. She also said she would give some of her animals away — a few to a sanctuary out of state, a few to a no-kill shelter, the report says.
Then the investigators noticed a carcass under a tarp, the report states. It was a third pig, reportedly four weeks dead, that DiLorenzo said she had been unable to bury in frozen ground.
“It was clear that other animals had been feeding on the carcass,” the sheriff’s report states.
Concerns about DiLorenzo’s treatment of her animals mounted this summer with discoveries on the site by Pena and others. Activists have also wondered whether DiLorenzo could be culpable in a 2018 fire at the sanctuary that destroyed two buildings and left pigs, ducks, geese and chickens dead. No one has been arrested in the apparent arson, and DiLorenzo’s animal-cruelty charge is not based on that incident, said Iroquois County State’s Attorney James Devine.
The accusations against DiLorenzo have outraged the animal rescue community that once “put their full trust and support” in her, says a petition now signed by nearly 10,000 people. Her mug shot now adorns Earth Animal Sanctuary’s cover photo on Facebook, where an event page invites people to show up to her first court date, on Jan. 23.
DiLorenzo was released after posting her $10,000 bond, according to county records.
Her critics are planning a vigil for the dead and missing animals after the court appearance. Jodie Wiederkehr, executive director of the Chicago Alliance for Animals, told the Ford County Record that she wants jail time imposed.
“She should get the book thrown at her,” she said.