City Limits Part 2: The Normal Number of Animals


Pop Quiz
The town of Normal, Illinois, may issue a fine if someone reports that a resident’s home contains which of the following:
A. 20 guns
B. three cats

B is correct. A Normal city ordinance prohibits more than two cats per dwelling. I contacted a city council member who forwarded my position paper to the rest of the council and staff. A proposed “dangerous dog ordinance” is their highest priority, he said, but it makes sense to discuss potential changes to pet limits when they consider the dangerous dog issue.

My first Itchmo article about this Noah’s Ark ordinance contains many of the points I offered the council, such as the way existing laws and ordinances –- and the status of animal cruelty as a felony in Illinois –- already address potential concerns from hoarding to nuisance and more. A few of my other discussion points follow, plus some extra details for Itchmo readers.

We have two cats and would like to adopt up to two more, but are currently limited to two animals of each type per dwelling unit. We can adopt two Great Danes tomorrow, but no more cats. Nearby Bloomington with its three-pet limit is only slightly better for us and worse for anyone with two cats and two dogs who would like to change zip codes.

Updating the ordinance may require adjustment to the town’s definition of kennel, unless kennels are already permitted in residential areas. (Check your local zoning codes to see if a pet limit is quietly hiding there.)

Is it surprising the state of Illinois believes one adult can handle daycare for EIGHT two-year-old children, while our city believes we cannot care for more than two cats? Is it strange Bloomington houses the county’s animal control center while Normal contains a humane society, yet both towns severely limit the number of pets?

Central Illinois has horrifying euthanasia figures. I am not saying all animals killed were healthy, or that fixing this ordinance would automatically increase adoptions. I am saying in the context of these kill rates, why criminalize citizens who have more than two cats or more than two dogs?

All figures below are from 2006, and except for McLean County all statistics are from the newsroom as reported on July 2.

MCLEAN CTY ANIMAL CONTROL, cats euthanized = 327 out of 410 accepted, 79% kill rate for cats; when 320 euthanized dogs are included, the kill rate for all animals is 54% (source: 2006 McLean County Health Dept. Annual Report, does not specify how many were DOA, etc.)

SANGAMON, 1758 cats and 1213 dogs euthanized, 46% kill rate; PEORIA, 3051 cats and 1475 dogs euthanized, 62% kill rate and MACON, 1581 cats and 1086 dogs euthanized, 68% kill rate.

The WUIS audio clip mentioned 2/3 of the cats and dogs euthanized in Sangamon County were elderly, biters, etc. As a writer, I would have asked how animal control defines elderly, and how they screen for adoptability. Pets for Seniors is a great Illinois charity that matches adult animals with senior citizens, and many non-seniors – including me -– prefer to adopt older animals. A pair of adorable cats, age 11 and 12, were quickly adopted from a no-kill rescue while my husband and I waited for the ordinance to change. Some animals are calm in foster care and adoptive homes but simply cannot handle cages.

As a no-kill supporter, I do not want to demonize animal control or other organizations who believe euthanasia is necessary to reduce rabies, population or cruelty. Euthanasia can be a kinder end than starving with a hoarder or dogs fighting dogs, yes – but that does NOT mean high kill rates and low pet limits are an effective remedy for cruelty, any more than limiting the number of children would reduce child abuse cases. “Pet Limit Laws: Closing the Door to Loving Homes” by the San Francisco chapter of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains the negative effects these ordinances create for community residents and homeless pets. (Thanks to the Pet Connection blog for this excellent document.)

Regarding hoarding concerns, Illinois was the first state to address the hoarding issue, with a four-pronged definition using the word “large” instead of a limit.

510 ILCS 70/2.10
Companion animal hoarder. “Companion animal hoarder” means a person who (i) possesses a large number of companion animals; (ii) fails to or is unable to provide what he or she is required to provide under Section 3 of this Act; (iii) keeps the companion animals in a severely overcrowded environment; and (iv) displays an inability to recognize or understand the nature of or has a reckless disregard for the conditions under which the companion animals are living and the deleterious impact they have on the companion animals’ and owner’s health and well being. (P.A. 92-454, eff. 1-1-02.)

I haven’t seen examples of hoarders charged with number of animal violations rather than cruelty. Based on a Dec. 30, 1998 Herald & Review article, Decatur, Ill., seemed to have a cat registration program in place when an odor complaint spawned an investigation. A couple who registered four cats with the city actually had 211 unhealthy cats and one dog.

Although number of animal complaints can reveal hoarders or at least provide easier access for inspections, I would expect the alerting complaints to be “There are cats EVERYWHERE,” or “So many, I couldn’t count them all” or “His house is full of sick cats in cages instead of furniture” and so on, rather than, “I saw three cats.” If these limits are so effective at identifying hoarders or providing access to cruelty incidents, then why are these limits not better publicized?

An Itchmo article about a woman keeping her dogs after 82 cats were seized due to cruelty accusations may spotlight how ineffective number of animal ordinances can be. Did anyone else notice her town had already fined Gloria Smith multiple times? The River Reporter covered her apparent violation of the city’s limits in July 19, 2001. (Yes, that’s 2001!) Smith appeared again in a May 2006 Times Herald-Record story that made me wonder what the shelter licensing procedures are in her state.

“Open Door/Hoarding Myths,” an article provided as a link on Nathan Winograd’s blog asserts high-kill areas may camoflauge hoarders. “If anything, true hoarders thrive in high-kill communities because they can rationalize to their friends and family the accumulation of too many animals.” I agree!

Perhaps the number of animals ordinance can be updated during October, Adopt-A-Dog month. If such a change ever happens, any publicity could pivot into stories and education about adoption opportunities, signs that might identify hoarding, how cruel hoarding really is and how to report potential cruelty violations.

Would gaps be created by abolishing this ordinance or raising the limit to a reasonable level? Is stronger inspection language needed? Surely lawmakers can equip humane investigators with enough power to properly investigate hoarding as well as other cruelty complaints unrelated to high numbers.

Whatever concern may have created this ordinance, a more appropriate solution can be found.

Photo: Candace Schilling

9 Responses to “City Limits Part 2: The Normal Number of Animals”

  1. pat says:

    Candace, Very good article with a well-reasoned point of view. I suppose you know that a pesky working brain like yours will prevent you from having a successful career in politics. ;)

  2. tj says:

    Our city has a 2 dog, 3 cat limit but in all of Los Angeles county, our animal shelter is the most populated and has the highest kill rate. We’ve met the limit but still continue to foster. What gets me is animal control doesn’t differentiate between the apartment dweller or the family with 10 acres of land and a giant house!

    We had a farmer out here a while back who had about 11 cats. Some were barn mousers and others house-cats but his family was accused of hoardnig and the cats were seized and euthanized. Ludicrous.

  3. highnote says:

    I agree with you tj that is ludicrous. Many farmers rely on cats to keep their mice population down and they also feed them to keep them close to the farm. A person in an appartment should not have so many cats.
    I still do not like the idea of the state telling me what I can have on my own property. I realize too many animals can become a problem but as long as a person does not disturb their neighbors and they care for their pets well then I feel it is no ones business but their own. I just feel that they take away more and more of a persons rights of personal freedom on their own land.
    It is just like in our town a person cannot put up a personal fence without the cities okay. They say the reason is that the police may not be able to see in your yard. If I want to take the risk of them not seeing in my yard that should be up to me and I should not be told what I can do on my own property like that and that is the same with pets. If I care for them and feed them, pick up their crap in my yard, and they do not disturb my neighbors then it should be up to me what I have on my personal property.
    They just keep giving us more laws and taking away our personal rights.

  4. 2CatMom says:

    I agree. A friend of mine has 6 six cats (down from 8) in a small town house. They are all kept indoors, and the place is immaculate. Because the cats each have their own little territories, you would never think there was more than 2-3 cats in the place. Technically, she is breaking the subdivisions’ bylaws but since these were all former strays dumped near the property, I think she’s doing her neighbors a favor. she’s never had anyone complain, but she does worry that some busybody could make her life difficult.

  5. Trudy Jackson says:

    Laws, Laws, and more Laws.Of course I don’t believe in hording, but I have a very large house with just My husband and Myself. and all of our critters.
    But so many pets need homes and then some people say to you- I am not allowed any more. and you know they could take excellant care of them. I just doesn’t make any sence at all.

  6. Lynn says:

    Could never figure out why people are allowed unlimited number of rugrats, for which MY taxes pay for their education. I say “Let the Ark be FULL of animals” as long as all are well taken care of and not allowed to roam or breed.

  7. mr_ed says:

    Candace, I feel for you but this just isn’t news, as in “Itchmo: news for dogs & cats.” This is an editorial that’s appropriate for other forums.

    Limits are widespread (my city’s is 5 animals, 3 dogs max), and most of the readers here probably agree with you already. So boil it down to:

    “I’m only allowed two cats and two dogs. I don’t think that’s fair, and I’m trying to change it. And by the way, I have a bias against guns.”

    Let us know if you have any success.

  8. 2CatMom says:

    Mr. Ed - just whose troll are you? The NRA? Are you a talking horse or a horses you-know-what?

    This is a legitimate topic for discussion. Lots of people aren’t aware that most towns have limits…not until they run smack into trouble because they have one pet too many. Or after their pet has been confiscated and euthanized.

    And yes, most of us would agree with her, but letting people know that these things exist may move people to work for change in their own communities.

  9. Me always says:

    I have one word to say and then I’ll roll my eyes at a 2 cat limit.


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