The Second District, in its recent decision in People v. Curtis, No. 2-09-0404, slip op. (February 23, 2011), answers this question with a resounding, "yes," much to the chagrin of animal hoarders in Illinois.
The facts of Curtis seem to be ripped from an episode of Animal Planet's latest series, Confessions: Animal Hoarding. The defendant lived in a "two-bedroom townhouse apartment with 87 cats," five of which were domesticated cats owned by defendant and kept in her bedroom and eighty-two of which were feral cats that "were strays that had come to her door" and lived elsewhere in the townhouse. Id. at 2. Defendant provided the cats with "food, water, and shelter." Id. Defendant eventually called animal control to remove the cats. Id. However, the defendant requested that one of the cats, who personally belonged to defendant, remain separated from the others. Id. This cat "had a respiratory tract infection and was euthanized." Curtis, No. 2-09-0404, slip op. at 2. As a result of her treatment towards that cat, the defendant was charged under 510 ILCS 70/3(c) with "knowingly and unlawfully failing to provide…veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering" and knowingly and unlawfully failing to provide…humane care and treatment" to the cat. Id. at 1-2.
Defendant was found not guilty of failing to provide veterinary care under section 3(c) but guilty of failing to provide humane care and treatment to the cat under section 3(d). Id. at 6. Defendant appealed, arguing, inter alia, that 3(d) was unconstitutionally vague and that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that "she did not provide humane care and treatment to her cat." Id.
The court held that 3(d) was not unconstitutionally vague and that defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of failing to provide humane care and treatment of her cat. Id. at 10-11. In reaching its conclusion, the court noted that "'A state is void for vagueness only if it fails to (1) 'provide the kind of notice that would enable a person of ordinary intelligence to understand what conduct is prohibited,' or (2) 'provide explicit standards for those who apply it, thus authorizing or even encouraging arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.'" Id. at 8 (citing People v. Larson, 379 Ill. App. 3d at 650). The issue, then, was "whether defendant's conduct constituted inhumane care and treatment to cat A209057 [the owner's "special" cat] as a person of ordinary intelligence would understand it." Curtis, No. 2-09-0404, slip op. at 9. To discern the meaning of "inhumane care and treatment," the court looked to the plain meaning of "humane," which is defined as being "marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for human and animals." Id. at 10. The court held "Under the plain and ordinary meaning of the statute, law enforcement officers are provided with explicit standards to apply the law in a nondiscriminatory manner." Id. at 11.
The court also held that under the plain meaning of the statute, "Defendant's conduct lacked considerate and compassion for cat A209057, in that it deprived the cat of sanitary living conditions, free of disease" and that she could therefore be prosecuted under the statute "in harmony with due process." Id. The court reasoned that
"the presence of such a significant number of animals in an enclosed space made cat A209057 more susceptible to disease and chronic infection. The evidence showed that the bedroom containing approximately 50 cats smelled strongly of urine and feces and that the residence contained only four litter boxes. Many of the cats suffered infections. Cat A209057 suffered an infection so severe that it led to its demise. Although defendant may have believed that she was saving the stray cats from certain death, a reasonable person would understand that he actions caused A209057 to exist in an unsanitary environment where the cat became so sick that animal control personnel deemed it necessary to euthanize the animal." Id. at 9.
This was a pretty unusual case. Most people do not have 87 cats in their home. And of those who do have many cats, most do not live in a two-bedroom townhouse, but rather in a rural setting where the cats have more space to roam. Furthermore, most people who have many cats have domesticated--not feral--cats. The fact that so many of these cats, many of them feral, lived in such a small space created a dangerous environment where disease was virtually unavoidable. I think that the key factor behind the court's decision here was not that there were dozens of feral cats being housed in a small space, but the fact that having dozens of feral cats in a small space makes disease unavoidable for the cats living there. If the defendant had 87 cats roaming her rural property rather than a small townhouse, the cats would not have been so susceptible to contracting disease, and the court's decision in Curtis may well have been different.