Animals in East Central Illinois have a friend in Clay Foley.
Foley, a licensed animal cruelty investigator with the Champaign County Humane Society, has devoted the last six years to helping the plight of abused and abandoned pets, in Champaign, Douglas, Ford, Iroquois, Piatt and Vermilion counties.
"This was a job I sort of fell into," Foley said. "I worked retail and became burned out on that. I had an opportunity to do animal cruelty investigations for the humane society with the idea that eventually I would work with the animals.
"But I fell in love with doing investigations, and I'm still doing it six years later."
Animal cruelty investigators are licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to check out reports of animal abuse or neglect, to gather information for possible prosecution and to work with pet owners in an effort to make things right for the animals.
Foley said the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act says pet owners have a duty to provide their animals with a sufficient quantity of good quality wholesome food and water, adequate shelter and protection from the weather, veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering, and humane care and treatment.
"Whether or not there's a city ordinance saying that animal cruelty is against the law, there is a state law that says it, and that's all that matters," Foley said.
"Neglect is the most common form of abuse," said Dr. Sally Foote, a Tuscola veterinarian. "Some owners either do not know or appreciate the amount of food or sheltering a pet really needs."
When Foley gets reports of animals in trouble, he heads to the home and checks out the animals' physical and living conditions.
He doesn't carry a weapon. He wears a badge identifying himself as an animal investigator.
"When I get into serious stuff like animal torture or an animal being shot, I call a police officer to be there with me," he said.
Foley said he has found animals without proper food and water in the summer and the winter.
"Animals can dehydrate just as easily in the winter as they do in the summer. During my career, I have seen a lot of dogs kept outdoors who perished in the winter. I see a lot of frozen water in dog pans with no food on top of the snow."
Foley suggests that people who keep their animals outside during the winter at least provide their pets with heated water bowls.
A few years ago Foley was sent to a home in Iroquois County after a neighbor reported a dog in a yard with no apparent food or water.
He knocked on the door, but nobody was home. Foley is allowed to go into open yards, but he can't enter homes.
The dog "was getting skinny, and he didn't have a dog house," Foley said.
After Foley gave him a treat, the dog picked up its empty, dry bucket and brought it to him.
"He was really wanting food and water because he brought it to me," Foley said.
Foley noticed the dog had some fly bites and some matting on its coat. He took photos of Bud's physical and living conditions and left a note for the owner to call him.
When nobody called within two days, Foley returned and left a note warning he would call police if the owner didn't contact him within 24 hours.
When the woman called Foley, he explained what needed to be done and warned the owner that he would return to check on the dog once more.
When Foley arrived the third time, the woman had moved the dog into the basement so he wouldn't be able to see its condition.
"I told her it is obvious she has lots of excuses. She doesn't have money to take him to the veterinarian and she isn't willing to give him a doghouse. 'Why don't you just give (the dog) to the Humane Society, and we'll give him a home?'"
The woman relinquished the dog to the humane society, which treated it for parasites and found it a new home.
"He gained weight, his coat looked great, and he was indoors," Foley said. "Most of all, (the dog) was loved."
Foley usually checks out a pet's physical condition, especially if the animal is extremely skinny.
"The owner may tell me he feeds the pet twice a day, the animal's body condition may tell me otherwise," he said. "Even if the dog is getting lots of food, a skinny dog may have internal parasites and need veterinary care."
Foley also takes special care to examine a doghouse used in the winter months.
"Straw can make a difference," Foley said. "An owner at least needs to make an effort to put in straw to hold in body heat."
Foley once found some skinny Dobermans kept in a truck topper sitting on top of some bricks. He has also found dogs kept in doghouses that were so small that the dogs became cramped.
Another time Foley found a puppy tethered to a tree. The pup wound the chain around the tree so many times that she could no longer reach her doghouse.
"It is the owner's job to tether a dog in such a manner that it won't continually tie itself up like that, and it isn't a solution to pull the doghouse closer to the tree," he said.
A common issue during the summer months is dogs or cats locked inside cars.
"If you are leaving an animal in danger, you are breaking the law," he said. "In these cases, a humane investigator, a police officer or an animal control officer can actually break into the car to save the pet."
One time Foley found a bunch of cats locked in the bathroom for months by a person who was hoarding cats.
"That's definitely not humane," he said.
Foley also checks animals for fly bites on the ears and nose, bloody ears, respiratory infections, severe flea problems, excessive hair loss, mange and severe limps.
If a dog or cat appears to be in distress, he tries to work with the pet owner to give the animal a better life, whether it be receiving needed veterinary care, getting better living conditions or receiving clean food and water.
If the owner doesn't have enough money to provide for his or her pet, Foley often arranges for donated doghouses, food or other items to be delivered to the owner's home.
Several years ago Foley started a program in which individuals or groups build or donate doghouses to be given to pet owners who can't afford them. The program also provides donated bales of straw, heated water bowls, animal collars and other items.
If the owner tells Foley that he or she cannot properly provide for the cat or dog, the owner sometimes turns over custody of the animal to the Humane Society, which works to provide a loving home for the pooch or kitty.
"I was at a home to investigate some dogs and found a kitty cat with severe respiratory infections and an injured left eye," Foley said. "I said to the man that the cat needed vet care. The owner signed the cat over to me and I took him back to the Humane Society.
"I named him Furman, got his infection treated and left eye removed, and now Furman lives in a loving home."
Foley said he does nearly 100 animal investigations each year, with about 40 animals voluntarily surrendered to the Humane Society.
In rare occasions, Foley said, an owner refuses to cooperate, even after Foley has documented the animals' conditions with photographs from repeated visits to the home and yard.
When that happens, (one or two times a year) Foley turns over the case to police and animal control officers, and the case goes into the legal system for prosecution.
Foley said he can't work to help animals if he doesn't know about their conditions and urged witnesses to report to the humane society.
"An animal can die if somebody of authority is not contacted," said Nancy Snook of Newman, chairwoman of a Douglas County animal support organization called Hands 4 Paws, "A lot of people don't know who to contact."
Foley said residents who notice suspicious conditions involving pets should call the Champaign County Humane Society at 344-7297.
"If you see an animal and your gut is tingling, report it," Foley said.