MERCER COUNTY, Illinois — In one of the biggest animal hoarding cases ever discovered in Illinois, officials rescued nearly 200 dogs from a home in Sherrard over the weekend.

Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies and animal control officers went to the property in Sherrard with a warrant Friday night after getting word of the situation. Teams of volunteers spent almost three days getting all of the dogs – all rough and smooth collies – off the property. The volunteers say the dogs were being kept in unsanitary, crowded conditions.

“A lot of matted coats, a lot of fecal matter, a lot of very, very skinny dogs,” said Amber Stephenson, a volunteer from New Beginnings Pet Rescue of the Quad Cities, remembering the scene. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smell. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”

Animal rescue organizations from across the Midwest and the Quad Cities came to help out, and they could tell the dogs had never known a normal life.

“There were some that we would put a towel in their crate and they were rolling around because they had no idea what a towel was,” Stephenson said.

Neighbors say they’ve known something’s been up for years, because they’ve heard dogs barking in the distance. They just didn’t know exactly how bad it was.

“When I heard there was 200, I mean, I fell out of my Ranger,” said Steven Foster, a man who has lived next door to the property for seven years. “I knew there was a lot of dogs, but I didn’t know there was that many. She’s always had collies, but the last six, seven (years), (it) has just been really, really bad.”

As for the dog’s owner, police say she’s 59-year-old Karen Plambeck, a woman with a history of animal cruelty. Court documents show that in October of 2019, Plambeck was charged with animal cruelty in Mercer County for keeping a halter on a horse for so long, that it became implanted into the horse’s face.

After her arrest Friday night, Plambeck now faces three counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Her neighbors say they were glad to see her arrested.

“I’m just glad it’s over with,” Foster said. “I mean, hopefully, she’ll never have another animal.”

As for the border collies, many of the people who helped save them hope this can be their new beginning. Veterinarians are now watching over them at the Mercer County Animal Control Center, and they plan on sending them to new homes once the police finish their investigation.

“I am happy those dogs get to experience what love actually is from a human, and they have the prospect of an amazing second chance at life,” Stephenson said.

The community can help the dogs in the meantime. One of the ways you can help is to donate dog food, which can be dropped off at the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office 24 hours a day.