Woman charged with 18 counts of animal cruelty

OKEECHOBEE — A local woman was charged with 18 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals after 11 dogs and seven cats were removed from her home on Oct. 2 by Okeechobee County Deputy James Hartsfield. Her bond will be set by the judge at her first appearance. Deputy Hartsfield also requested she not be allowed to have any care of or contact with animals until the case is closed.

On Sept. 25, Amy Fisher, acting director of animal control, received an email from Deidre Huffman, adoption manager of the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast.

According to the email the woman began surrendering pets to Ms. Huffman’s organization in 2018, and Ms. Huffman had a long talk with her about the condition of her cats and kittens. In the email, Ms. Huffman describes a number of kittens as having severe eye issues, possibly being blind and some with eyes that have ruptured. She noted some of the adult cats were sick as well with eye problems, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. She also wrote that the woman told her multiple times she did not have money for proper vet care and resorted to folk treatments and coconut oil.

Based on this email, Deputy Hartsfield went to the woman’s home to check on the welfare of the woman and the animals.

According to the arrest report, when Deputy Hartsfield knocked on the door, he saw and heard a lot of dogs running to the window and the door. The woman came to the side door in the garage, and he introduced himself and explained why he was there. Through the open garage door, he said he could see at least six kittens on the floor of the garage with trash and debris strewn about including garbage bags which had been torn open. He also noted there was a strong odor of urine and feces emanating from the home, and the lower parts of the walls were stained with urine and feces.

As the woman led him into the house, he reported, the smell of urine and feces was almost overwhelming. There were 11 dogs inside, and the walls of all the rooms were reportedly smeared with urine and feces. Many of the walls reportedly had holes in them where the animals had apparently dug into them, and in the living room, he found a sunken fireplace area that he reported looked as if it regularly had feces swept into it. He noted a bathroom had rat feces and trash in the sink, tub and on the counter top. In the kitchen, he reported a stove filled with rats, not mice. He noted they could see the rats in the rafters where the drywall had fallen in. The refrigerator held a bag of decomposing dog food along with rat feces, he reported. The dogs were reportedly filthy and had skin problems but seemed to be in average health.

Based on Deputy Hartsfield’s training and experience, he believes the woman to be an animal hoarder. He explained to her that animal control would be taking custody of the animals and asked if she would be willing to sign custody over in order to expedite their adoption, and she agreed.

The animals were transported to animal control and were assessed by Amy Fisher and Dr. Julie Kittams. The 11 dogs were all judged to be in fair shape, but the seven cats were all infected with an upper respiratory infection, a highly contagious infection with low survival rate, and they were all humanely euthanized.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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