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Wheeling pet owner: 'We won!' Judge allows her to keep 5th dog
Judge rules Monday she may keep fifth dog
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff

Wheeling resident Margaret Bucher won a battle to keep her five dogs Monday.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

Margaret Bucher plead her case before the Wheeling village board last month asking the board to change an ordinance limiting a person to four pets.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

A Cook County Circuit Court judge on Monday allowed Margaret Bucher to keep her fifth dog, and threw out the fine she would have had to pay.

 

Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/12/2009 12:00 AM

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"We won!" exclaimed Margaret Bucher after a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday that she can keep her fifth dog - the one presumably in violation of Wheeling's four-pet limit.

Bucher was issued two citations April 14 for violating the village's four-pets-only rule and not registering four of her five dogs. She was facing daily fines of between $50 and $500.

After quickly registering her three dogs, Bucher vowed to fight the village pet limit, claiming she had found a loophole.

Wheeling's current village ordinance makes it illegal "for any person to keep or harbor more than four of any type or combination of animals" older than 4 months.

Bucher, who represented herself in court, argued the village ordinance did not specify four pets per household, but instead four pets per person.

Therefore, she argued, she and her 43-year-old daughter, Mary, who lives with her, should be able to keep all five dogs - a Pomeranian, two Maltese, a Shih Tzu, and a Maltese/shih tzu mix.

After 35 minutes of hearing arguments from both sides, the judge sided with Bucher.

Bucher broke out into tears.

"Oh God! I jumped up and down," said Bucher, 63. "The papers went flying. I just screamed and I just ran and hugged everybody I could find to hug. Everybody was laughing and smiling."

Bucher said she didn't talk to anyone from the village, but hugged them, too.

The judge also advised Wheeling to rewrite its ordinance, if the village intends to limit four pets per household.

Wheeling Village Trustee Dean Argiris said officials have been working on changing the language of the ordinance to include the term "dwelling."

Still, Argiris was disappointed with the ruling.

"So that means, I have five people in my house, I can have 20 dogs," he said. "Would my neighbors appreciate that? So let's encourage everybody who has a human being living in their home to get four dogs. I question the judge a little bit here."

Argiris said case law has upheld ordinances with similar language in other communities, but didn't say whether the village would appeal the decision.

"I think you've got to protect the residents," Argiris said. "Why have laws, if we can't use common sense here?"

Village officials are also considering lowering the limit on pets to three per home in multifamily residential complexes, such as apartments, condominiums or townhouses that share common walls and outside areas. Single-family homeowners would still be allowed to have four pets. The amended ordinance will likely be approved by the village board in coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Bucher says she now can stop worrying about having to move out of town, which she said she would do, if she couldn't keep her five dogs.

"It's been horrible," Bucher said, choking in her tears. "Ever since March 18 (when she was issued the first warning notice), it's been a nightmare. I have been sleeping with them (the five dogs) because I just wanted every single minute with them just in case something happened."

A relieved Bucher was on her way Monday afternoon to pick up her daughter from home so they could register their fifth dog, Gizmo, in Mary's name.

"Gizzy is going to be so excited," Bucher said. "We're going to order a pizza. My dogs love cheese pizza."

Dogs: Trustee questions judge's ruling