Illinois pair charged with animal torture

Friday, December 23, 2005

More than 50 animals were rescued at a Union County home; three had to be put to sleep.

DONGOLA, Ill. -- A Dongola couple faces animal torture charges after numerous horses, dogs, cats and birds were removed from allegedly squalid living conditions on Wednesday.

More than 50 animals were rescued from a two-story farmhouse and surrounding property. A horse, a dog and a kitten suffered from either festering sores, malnutrition or a bowel disorder to the extent they needed to be put to sleep, said Union County State's Attorney Allen James.

The deaths incurred three felony charges of animal torture against Michael and Debra White Elsner that could result in two to five years in prison on each count. They also face three misdemeanor charges of cruel treatment.

The Elsners' 14-year-old son also lives at the residence, James said. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is investigating whether he has been the victim of neglect.

The Elsners, who hired a lawyer and turned themselves in Thursday evening, were released on $300 bond each, according to the Union County Sheriff's Department.

"They have money to hire an attorney, but they don't have money to feed their animals," James said.

A sheriff's deputy served a search warrant that was issued after unhealthy living conditions were reported by a couple who purchased puppies from the Elsners on Tuesday. The deputy was accompanied by Union County animal control officer Donna Hawk and Jonesboro police chief John Garner.

"It was kind of in disarray with animal feces everywhere," Garner said.

One cup of food was found for the 28 cats that lived either outside in a chicken coop or on the first floor of the house, James said.

Twelve dogs lived either in the basement or ran loose. About 3 inches of dog food was found at the bottom of a popcorn tin, Garner said. Ribs were showing on the 20 horses removed from the land, Garner said. Officers found two round bales of hay, and the only source of water found was a drying brook.

Four birds and one squirrel also were removed from the home, James said.

The horses are being kept at a farm in the county, he said, while the cats are at the Wright-Way Rescue in Carbondale, Ill. The dogs were taken to the Union County Animal Shelter. The sickest of the animals were first treated at Miller-James Veterinarian Clinic in Anna, Ill.

"Once we get them nursed back to health, we will likely put them up for adoption," James said.

Donations to help the animals will be accepted by the Union County Animal Control office. For more information, call (618) 833-4915.

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