BLOOMINGTON — An animal rescue group filed a petition in court Thursday asking that a man accused of starving more than 70 animals be removed from the property that once served as a shelter for abandoned animals.
Don’t Bully My Breed, a nonprofit group founded by the late Catherine Hedges, was appointed administrator of Hedges’ estate, including the rural Gridley home and barn where Curtis Cleary allegedly allowed more than 60 cats and a dozen dogs to starve to death. Hedges and Cleary shared the property before her death in September 2011.
Cleary faces charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated domestic battery and possession of a firearm without a firearm owner’s identification card in connection with an incident Sunday in which multiple shots allegedly were fired at a woman. She told police she was fleeing domestic violence.
The suspect, who also is charged with animal cruelty, remains in jail in lieu of posting $5,675.
McLean County Sheriff’s Department officers discovered the dead animals in the house and barn after Cleary was arrested.
Cleary was brought to court Thursday for the probate hearing at which Judge Elizabeth Robb removed him as administrator of Hedges’ estate. Darcy Glass with Don’t Bully My Breed was named administrator.
“I don’t know why they are going after my house,” Cleary told Robb.
Peoria attorney Kenneth Baker argued that the nonprofit organization named in Hedges’ will is entitled to the property because Cleary failed to comply with the requirements of the lifetime residency given to him in the will, including payment of real estate taxes. He also failed to file paperwork in probate court as administrator of the estate, said Baker.
Baker filed a petition seeking possession of the property and removal of Cleary and any other residents from the property. Robb set a Dec. 27 hearing on the request.
Robb denied a request from a woman who identified herself as Cleary’s mother to postpone the hearing until Cleary could hire a lawyer. The judge noted that the hearing to begin probate proceedings had been set since September.
Members of several animal rescue groups said after the hearing that they support Cleary’s removal from the property but they are concerned about the wellbeing of farm animals on the property.
The state Department of Agriculture said the two horses, nine cows, three goats and nine pigs will be moved within 48 hours to another location while the case against Cleary is resolved.
“The livestock is being cared for and is in the process of being moved,” said agriculture department spokesman Jeff Squibb.
The animals were determined to be “in acceptable condition” and were examined by a veterinarian, said Squibb. The removal is based on Cleary’s inability to care for the animals because he is in jail.
The ownership of the animals is one of the issues authorities are working to resolve, said Squibb, because Cleary is part-owner of the livestock.