More than two hundred fifty dogs and cats at a home in rural Lee County, outside Rochelle, are getting their first real taste of affection, as well as consistent food and water in a long time. Their owner, 65-year old Barbara Munroe, is in Lee County jail facing animal cruelty charges. Since Friday, animal rescuers have been moving the pets out of Munroe's home and into a temporary shelter.
"The animals are going to be cared for as best they can, taken care of medically, fed," says Lee County State's Attorney Paul Whitcombe.
But rescuers were too late for as many as two hundred of the animals they found dead all around the house, some just skeletons. Rescuers believe Munroe did not want to hurt her pets and did her best to care for them, but couldn't do it alone.
"She was way out of her league with this. So it's very possible they died of upper respiratory infections or old age or starvation is certainly a possibility," says Beth Drake, Executive Director of Tails Humane Society in Dekalb.
Dozens of pens wrap around the outside of the house. Rescuers say the outdoor animals may actually have had it best. They say it was inside where there were piles of feces, no light and no fresh air that animals suffered the most.
"It's beyond filfthy. I'm not sure what the word would be to describe it. The smell in there is very overpowering. Your eyes burn almost immediately. But our focus was on these animals have been breathing like this for quite some time so clearly we can deal with it for the time that we're in there," says Drake.
Munroe could face up to a year in jail. State's Attorney Paul Whitcombe says there will be a legal process to decide if Munroe can get her animals back. If not they'll all go to new homes and a new life.
Whitcombe also says authorities had been by the house before, but had never gone inside. Munroe finally called animal control last week saying she needed help dealing with her pets. That's when rescuers first saw the filfth and realized how serious the situation was. Whitcombe says the condition of the house suggests Munroe could be mentally ill.
The animals are not looking for homes yet. But it's going to cost a lot of money to maintain them while the legal issues get squared away. Munroe makes her first court appearance Monday.
In the meantime, visit the website www.tailshumanesociety.org to make monetary donations. Most of the animals Munroe had been buying over the years are purebred and rescuers say they're mostly well-behaved, so should eventually be adoptable.