Hundreds of animals were removed from Barbara Munroeâ€™s rural Illinois home in October after she missed vaccinations for 35 of her registered dogs.
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 â€“- still active but never served â€“- 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.
â€œNuisance laws are usually the most effective way to handle hoarders,â€ she said. â€œThe ASPCA opposes pet limit laws. They donâ€™t work and only serve to penalize responsible ownersâ€¦ 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.â€ 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 Munroeâ€™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, â€œWoman Accused of Cat Cruelty Allowed to Keep Her 60 Dogs.â€
A friend in another state has reported someone in her neighborhood for years and has seen bones inside the personâ€™s house. At one point, animal control told her they wouldn’t come out for fewer than four animals, and she said, â€œFour? Try 20!â€ No one came, though my friend said her cityâ€™s pet limit is â€œtwo,â€ not four. She is now contacting other authorities.
VanKavage drafted Illinois legislation to include a four-pronged definition of hoarding, which passed in 2001. â€œIt was the Illinois Department of Agricultureâ€™s idea. They were seeing cases of hoarders moving from county to county.â€ She said the law aims to reduce the relapse rate of hoarders by mandating psychological counseling.
â€œI donâ€™t believe anyone has found pet limit laws to be effective in stopping hoarders,â€ VanKavage said. â€œ[Pet limit laws] may give them a way, but so do nuisance laws.â€
Photo: Chicago Tribune