On December 24, Corinne DiLorenzo, founder of EARTH Animal Sanctuary in Thawville, IL, was arrested and charged with Aggravated Animal Cruelty, a Class Four felony. DiLorenzo became a public figure when a video she posted in 2014 to social media of her singing to a pig named Bentley garnered national attention, prompting people worldwide to support her and her sanctuary for “unadoptables” and farmed animals. Several years later, DiLorenzo was not reachable and local activists, many of whom had promoted her work over social media and provided EARTH with labor and material support, became concerned for her well-being.
In early January of 2019, Jodie Wiederkehr—co-founder of Chicago Alliance for Animals and a former friend of DiLorenzo—began searching for DiLorenzo online and found mention of a barn fire at EARTH on the fundraising site GoFundMe. Surprised that no one in the Chicago animal advocacy community knew about the fire, Wiederkehr intensified her search and eventually learned from DiLorenzo’s ex-partner that all of the animals who’d lived at the sanctuary were dead, either from the fire or unknown causes. This summer, a group led by former EARTH board member Melissa Summer Pena found a mass, crude burial site with the remains of more than 600 animals inside. Bentley, the pig DiLorenzo serenaded on her viral video, is presumed to be among them.
Describing the scene as “nothing less than horrific” in a harrowing public Facebook post, Summer Pena found bag upon bag of animal remains in a ditch on the property, including skulls and carcasses of pigs, cats, dogs, birds and turtles. “It was simply devastating. This is a person who I had admired before I got to know her and when I did get to know her, we became pretty good friends,” Wiederkehr told VegNews. “My first reaction was incredible sadness and the sadness, once I learned more, quickly turned to anger.”
Over the course of 2019, activists with Chicago Alliance for Animals and throughout IL have assembled resource materials to build the case against DiLorenzo, including horrific photographic evidence and a spreadsheet of more than 600 unaccounted for animals. This hardworking group has made these documents available to the public in an effort to piece together what happened at EARTH.
Wiederkehr employed Daily Action Alerts (DAA)—targeted actions anyone can take to have their voices heard, most often using calls, emails and tweets to speak up on issues with decision-makers—to direct people toward steps they could take to get attention on this case. DiLorenzo was arrested and charged thanks in large part to the community’s actions. DiLorenzo has posted bail and is scheduled to appear in court on January 23 at 9:30 AM at the Iroquois County Courthouse in Watseka, IL and Chicago Alliance for Animals plans to pack the courtroom. “It will not bring back the animals whose lives were lost but it will bring a small measure of justice,” Wiederkehr said. “If we can learn from this tragic situation to not automatically trust everyone who claims to be an animal rescuer, the animals’ lives will not have been lost in vain.”