A former petting-zoo owner accused of neglecting scores of animals to the point that more than a dozen were found dead on properties she rented pleaded guilty Friday to a single count of animal cruelty.
Stacy Fiebelkorn, 36, of Elgin agreed to serve 90 days in the Kane County jail and two years of probation. She must undergo a psychological evaluation at the Kane County Diagnostic Center. And she is not to own, care for or otherwise be responsible for animals during her probation.
She will serve her jail term in five stints. The first starts March 25. The last stint starts June 2, 2017. She is eligible for day-for-day credit for good behavior.
"Oh my gosh, we got something," Laura Van Der Snick, a member of the Hands and Hooves riding, rescue and rehabilitation group of Wayne, said after the hearing. "I think it is a victory today for animals, that somebody is going to jail" for animal cruelty, she said.
The group had met several times with prosecutors, providing information, including legal advice from private attorneys about animal abuse case law.
"We're extremely grateful. They really cared," said Kelly Owens, founder and president of the group.
Van Der Snick was one of the many volunteers who helped the county remove the animals from the Hampshire farm. "This was like an Auschwitz for animals," she said.
Fiebelkorn declined to comment after the hearing.
Two other misdemeanor charges, of failing to fulfill an owner's duty to provide adequate food, shelter and water, were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Fiebelkorn and her mother, Sandra Fiebelkorn, owned the Mini Zoo Crew.
Kane County authorities began investigating Fiebelkorn in mid-February 2014, after receiving a tip about a dead horse and a dead horse fetus in a field on a Maple Park farm. They learned she had more animals in Hampshire and after investigating issued notices of violation. Owners typically are given 24 hours to fix the situation.
In early March 2014, Fiebelkorn was charged with failure of an owner to provide adequate food, water and shelter, and abuse.
Kane County Animal Control immediately removed more than 90 animals from her custody. They had found 12 dead animals, including horses, at farms she rented in Maple Park and Hampshire. Most of the animals were in Hampshire.
She also owned donkeys, goats, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, chickens, ducks and rabbits.
Fiebelkorn initially fought efforts to take the animals away from her permanently. She eventually voluntarily surrendered some, and she forfeited the rest when she did not pay a court-ordered bill for their care.
Animal control officials and sheriff's deputies reported finding that the animals had no access to water, as buckets and tanks were frozen solid. Horses and donkeys lacked adequate access to shelter, rabbit cages were a quarter-full with feces, and two dead goats were found in a 12-inch pile of straw, feces and urine.
During four USDA inspections for the petting-zoo license in 2012 and 2013, the Fiebelkorns were cited for, among other things, letting animals' quarters accumulate excessive feces and keeping unsafe debris, including discarded boards with protruding nails, in the barn and in the yards where animals stayed. The USDA reports did not address the conditions of the horses, donkeys and poultry, as they are considered agricultural animals, not zoo animals.
Fiebelkorn has been free on bail since the charges were filed. Her bail was posted by Mark Schuring of Harvard, who listed himself on the paperwork as her boyfriend. He runs Healing Hearts With Hooves and Hounds, a nonprofit group that uses horses and dogs to help victims of domestic violence recover and to campaign against domestic violence and bullying.
Van Der Snick and Owens stressed that if people are unable to care for their animals, groups such as theirs are willing to help. They can provide food and medical care, or take ownership of the animals. They said people know about rescue groups for dogs but may not know there is help for horses and other animals.
"There is help out there. You don't have to starve your animals," Van Der Snick said.