SPRINGFIELD — Legislation that would allow the Department of Agriculture to refer for prosecution false complaints against an animal shelter was approved by an Illinois Senate committee Wednesday.
The bill (SB 1532), is sponsored by Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
It was sought by J. Garrie, a retired University of Illinois employee and a former Champaign County Humane Society board member, and Pat Burr of Colfax, who operate the Central Illinois Small Animal Rescue & Care Center, a "no-kill shelter" east of Bloomington-Normal and northwest of Gibson City.
They said agriculture department investigators have been sent to their shelter "dozens" of times over the last eight years on complaints that never led to charges.
"The Burrs are absolutely on the up and up. Our agriculture inspectors have said so," Rose said. "But we keep sending, for whatever reason whether it's an angry neighbor or a former employee — nobody knows because it's all anonymous — we keep sending resources, chasing our tail."
Garrie and Burr, who are married, said they have taken in dogs, cats, ostriches, emus, donkeys, pigs, turkeys and chickens over the 14 years the shelter has been in business.
"We try to do the bulk of our rescues in the state of Illinois. But if we've really got a sad case, well ..." Garrie said, his voice trailing off.
"We'll always find room," added Burr.
They said the shelter is funded entirely by themselves and with donations.
"All of our retirement has gone into this project because somebody's got to do it. All of these poor animals that have been euthanized for no reason, it's got to stop," Burr said.
Garrie told the committee the shelter takes in two to three animals a day, spends about $400,000 annually on veterinary care and employs about 15 people.
"We're not a small operation, we're one of the largest in the state of Illinois," he said. "As a licensed shelter in the state of Illinois we expect to get four inspections a year from the department. But what has happened in fact is that the last half-dozen or so investigations we've had have been ... because he's received some kind of a complaint."
Rose said the legislation would fix a void in state law.
"It allows the department (of agriculture) to refer for prosecution, just like if you file a false police report and it goes to the state's attorney's office," Rose said. "You file a false complaint here, and everyone knows it's false, it's done. Nothing happens, and we waste valuable state resources going out and inspecting somebody who doesn't need to be inspected. And the state's attorney never even knows about it. It's really a misappropriation of state resources.
"For every time the department gets a call to go out to their shelter, they're not going out to a legitimate complaint."
The legislation specifies that a charge against an animal shelter can be referred for prosecution "if it's knowingly false with the intent to harrass," Rose said.
The bill was supported by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, Rose said.