Illinois Hoarding Case: Pet Limits to the Rescue?

Hoarding Case

Hundreds of animals were removed from Barbara Munroe’s rural Illinois home in October after she missed vaccinations for 35 of her registered dogs.

Would a pet limit have enabled Lee County officials to act sooner, as a SaukValley.com article and an editorial suggest, despite “noise and sanitation” complaints from neighbors?

In 1998, police in Decatur, Ill., executed a search warrant related to potential safety code violations after odor complaints from neighbors, according to the Herald & Review. They discovered more than 200 unregistered animals living in horrible conditions with a couple later found to have four cats registered with the city.

The Chicago Tribune reported an arrest warrant –- still active but never served –- for one count of animal cruelty against Munroe in another Illinois county.

I sent a few questions to Ledy VanKavage, Esq., senior director of legal training and legislation for the ASPCA. VanKavage said she would think the arrest warrant could have been detected by law enforcement.

“Nuisance laws are usually the most effective way to handle hoarders,” she said. “The ASPCA opposes pet limit laws. They don’t work and only serve to penalize responsible owners… Hoarders are very secretive. Practically every day a hoarder is busted in a jurisdiction with a pet limit law. The county should strengthen its nuisance laws and enforce its licensing laws.” This would enable authorities to detect problems.

If pet limits stopped hoarding, my husband and I would stop asking our city council for permission to adopt more than two cats. Introducing a pet limit in Munroe’s community could be ill-timed as Lee County and surrounding areas absorb the nearly 300 animals she relinquished.

I wish pet limits were a quick fix for a horrifying problem, but criminalizing many for doing a good thing, in hopes of catching a few people doing a bad thing, is not a solution. At first, Munroe kept her animals in more than one location, and after her violation of a five-dog limit was uncovered, she moved. Even without a pet limit, she registered a fraction of her animals, and hid most indoors.

By 2001, Gloria Smith cost her town $10,000 in legal fees in her fight against a kennel/pet limit in Cochecton, N.Y. You may remember Smith from the more recent Itchmo article, “Woman Accused of Cat Cruelty Allowed to Keep Her 60 Dogs.”

A friend in another state has reported someone in her neighborhood for years and has seen bones inside the person’s house. At one point, animal control told her they wouldn’t come out for fewer than four animals, and she said, “Four? Try 20!” No one came, though my friend said her city’s pet limit is “two,” not four. She is now contacting other authorities.

VanKavage drafted Illinois legislation to include a four-pronged definition of hoarding, which passed in 2001. “It was the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s idea. They were seeing cases of hoarders moving from county to county.” She said the law aims to reduce the relapse rate of hoarders by mandating psychological counseling.

“I don’t believe anyone has found pet limit laws to be effective in stopping hoarders,” VanKavage said. “[Pet limit laws] may give them a way, but so do nuisance laws.”

Photo: Chicago Tribune

5 Responses to “Illinois Hoarding Case: Pet Limits to the Rescue?”

  1. Tanya says:

    There should absolutly be a “pet limit” law in most states. If you wish to have more than “x” pets, whatever number that be, then you need to register somewhere so the city, state or county can come out once and a while and check to make sure you are providing for your animals in a safe and healthy manner for you, for the animals, for your family and for your neighbors.

    We register our cars, our houses, our income, and our children (birth certificates which are then checked against school records to insure your kids are actually going to school or being home schooled), why wouldn’t we register our pets to insure we know what to do.

  2. Gindy says:

    A close friend of mine is involved in rescue operations in Missouri. If she had to follow a pet limit law, she could not do her job properly. She has over 30 animals at her farm at any one given time, with many in transit to other rescue operations around the country. She moved out of her suburban area home to a 114 acre farm so she could house the needy dogs, cats, llamas, cows, buffalo, and horses she cares for on a permanent and temporary basis. Some exceptions would have to be allowed to the rule so people like her could continue their much needed work.
    She is not a hoarder or collector, some of her animals are at her place for rehab and vet care and then are transported all within a week to a few months. Her old horses, mostly old and abused farmers plow animals, are permanent residents since no one else wants them. The more exotic animals are temporary residents until the species rescues can find places for them.

  3. Pam says:

    Pet limit laws are more government intrusion into private citizens’ lives. We should not be inviting government entities to tell us how many pets we can have.

    As the article acknowledges, hoarders/collectors are not deterred by these laws. They will find a way, probably at the expense and suffering of the animals. The animal hoarders have a mental illness that needs treatment.

  4. Don Earl says:

    The problem is it’s not possible to instill common sense through legislation in people who don’t have the capacity for common sense in the first place.

    Most areas have enforcable pet laws on the books. The problem is those laws are rarely enforced. Worse yet, half the time the laws are enforced, ten million half wits start letter writing campaigns to take the teeth out of those laws.

    IMO, the best place to start would be for all shelters to hold regular classes open to the public on the care and responsibilities of pet ownership. Obviously that’s not a cure all for everything, but I think a lot of problems are the result of people simply not knowing what they need to know to be good pet parents.

    Maybe instead of licensing pets, perhaps the ownership of pets should be licensed? For example one person might qualify for 4 dogs and 3 cats, where another would be subject to a one guinnea pig limit license.

    Whatever. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s pretty obvious what’s in place isn’t working. When something doesn’t work, it’s insane to keep falling back on the same methods that are proven failures.

  5. Tanya says:

    Gindy,

    Your friend and you if you take in extra pets to resuce them are running “rescues”. those should registered, given TAX FREE status, and routinly monitored just cause we all know how easily one can go from good intentions to harm.

    Liscences for rescues should be very low cost (10 bucks or so) or totally free. The state should require that any one running a “rescue” have FREE classes, say every 10 years, where people can find out about changes in TNR practices, where they can find info on training dogs effectivly, where they can find out new techniques on rehoming rescues if possible.

    True “pets” as members of our family take a lot of time and commitment. if *all* you are doing is “having pets” then it is legitimate to say “ok, it is not realistic you can spend enough time with 10 cats to really have them all be pets”. But if you are a rescue, some of your pets are loved members of the family, and some are animals you lovingly care for.

    I see legitimate reasons that if you run a rescue or routinly foster many animals, it is good for the animals involved to be monitored. That is teh state’s job, to insure the health and safety of animals - from those working a farm, to those being slaughtered for food, to those who are being breed as pets, to those living in cages awaiting the love of a new home.


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