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URBANA — Champaign County’s top prosecutor has filed criminal charges against a Champaign couple accused of mistreating scores of dogs by hoarding them.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz on Friday filed misdemeanor charges of failure to provide humane care and treatment of animals against Mark Richards, 61, and Wendy Richards, 55, who live in the 1300 block of West Springfield Avenue.

On Oct. 22, Champaign County animal control officers, armed with a search warrant, seized 69 adult dogs and 15 puppies that were flea-infested and had their coats matted with feces from the couple’s one-story, approximately 1,900 square-foot home.

“We are treating this as an animal hoarding situation. We are concerned about the health and welfare of the dogs as well as the health and welfare of the people,” said Rietz.

Although the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor offense is up to six months in the county jail, if they are convicted, the Richardses can be court-ordered to be psychologically evaluated and get treatment if recommended, Rietz explained.

The discovery of the 84 dogs began on Oct. 16 when an employee of the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District who was working near the home heard “what sounded like a significant number of dogs and (noticed) a horrible smell when he approached,” Rietz said.

He contacted the county’s animal control office — Champaign has a contract with the county to provide services within the city — and an officer went there the following day.

“The animal control officer spoke to the residents on Oct. 17 and could hear a large number of dogs,” Rietz said. However, the couple refused to let her in to investigate so she took steps, with the help of the city’s legal department, to obtain a search warrant, which they served Oct. 22.

“The residence was full of feces and urine throughout. Some of the dogs were aggressive and bit the animal control officers,” Rietz said. “They had fleas, significant matting (of their coats), three were pregnant.”

Rietz said it took the two officers three hours to get the 84 dogs removed from the home. They were taken to the animal control pound on East Washington Street in Urbana.

They thought they had them all but on Nov. 1, representatives of the city’s Neighborhood Services department went back with an administrative search warrant to see if the house was habitable.

Rietz said Lt. Bruce Ramseyer accompanied those folks and on that day, they found one more dog in poor health, a cat that couldn’t be caught, and two dead kittens in the basement. The ailing dog was taken at that time.

Ramseyer reported that the couple was making efforts to clean up the house and there were shovels in plain sight being used to remove the animal feces.

Rietz said on Nov. 6, the couple surrendered their rights to approximately 80 of the dogs.

“Many of them have been sent to a partner organization for adoption and they’re working on foster placements for the healthy ones,” she said. The animal control department is continuing to provide care for those too sick to be fostered.

The Richardses are expected to appear in court on Dec. 6.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).