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Local Editorials

County must act to limit companion animal ownership

The sad story of Barbara Munroe is one that bears repeating, not because she is evil or deserving of public humiliation. On the contrary, what took place on her rural Rochelle property can only be considered pitiable. The story bears repeating because it should never be allowed to happen again, which is exactly what some people were probably thinking four years ago when Tiffany Anne McCoy, of Amboy, was arrested and charged with 12 counts of cruelty to more than 200 dogs and puppies.

Then it happened again. Munroe was arrested last month and charged with eight counts of cruelty involving nearly 300 living animals and 200 found dead in the squalor of her rural home south of Rochelle.

The two cases are considered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to be the worst cases of animal hoarding and neglect in state history.

That's a dubious distinction for one county.

What's so confounding is that county officials knew Munroe was amassing her menagerie, even before they began removing the dogs, the dead and the nearly dead, from McCoy's property.

What was stopping the Lee County state's attorney, the sheriff, animal control and environmental health from taking action sooner? It appears their inaction was due to the lack of any regulation over the number of companion animals one person can own.

Nobody wants an invasive Big Brother-type government to regulate and restrict all of the various facets of our lives, especially with respect to private property. However, with respect to the recognized clinical behavior of animal hoarding, a sensible limit is clearly necessary.

After an Oregon state couple was convicted in 2003 of animal cruelty charges similar to those filed against McCoy and Munroe, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association wrote: "Early intervention is key to reducing the suffering of the animals and people involved in these cases."

Many of the parties involved Munroe's arrest have expressed the same feelings of sympathy for her.

County officials made visits to the home, and even helped her to try and manage her animals - the ones they could see outside the home - so clearly they could see the roughly 70 dogs fenced in around the property.

How much sooner would this have been stopped if the county had a rule limiting ownership to 60 dogs?

What about 50?

How many animals would have been saved if the limit was 40?

How many less carcasses would have been discovered if the limit was 30?

The limit on dogs in the city of Joliet, where Munroe once lived, is five. She moved from there after violating the ordinance. Would a Lee County ordinance calling for the same restriction have prevented Munroe from collecting those dogs, cats and birds? Probably not.

However, instead of watching the collection grow, the county would have had a measure by which to say enough is enough.

Surely Lee County officials want the county to be recognized for its natural beauty and proud history and heritage, not for the unspeakable cruelty and ugliness that results when leaders simply shrug at the reality of animal hoarding.

Through wire services and the Internet, the story literally has been repeated around the world, and it bears repeating until such time as county officials demonstrate they are prepared to do what is within their power to make sure this never happens again.

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