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 â€œdangerous dog ordinanceâ€ 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 Noahâ€™s Ark ordinance contains many of the points I offered the council, such as the way existing laws and ordinances â€“- and the status of animal cruelty as a felony in Illinois â€“- 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 townâ€™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 countyâ€™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 WUIS.org 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 â€“ including me -â€“ 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 â€“ 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. â€œPet Limit Laws: Closing the Door to Loving Homesâ€ 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 â€œlargeâ€ 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 â€œThere are cats EVERYWHERE,â€ or â€œSo many, I couldnâ€™t count them allâ€ or â€œHis house is full of sick cats in cages instead of furnitureâ€ and so on, rather than, â€œI saw three cats.â€ 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 cityâ€™s limits in July 19, 2001. (Yes, thatâ€™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.
â€œOpen Door/Hoarding Myths,â€ an article provided as a link on Nathan Winogradâ€™s blog asserts high-kill areas may camoflauge hoarders. â€œIf anything, true hoarders thrive in high-kill communities because they can rationalize to their friends and family the accumulation of too many animals.â€ 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