“Cursory Examination” Does Not Stand Up in Animal Cruelty Case

In May of this year, 261 dogs were seized from a rescue operated by Charles and Diana O’Malley in Polk Co FL.  To refresh your memory on the dramatic details of the case:

In what authorities are calling the largest case of animal abuse in Polk County history, a Polk City husband and wife were arrested Thursday and each charged with 261 counts of animal cruelty.


Upon investigation, Animal Control officers and Sheriff’s Office deputies found 226 dogs and 35 puppies of various breeds malnourished, infested with fleas and parasites and in very poor health.


[Polk Sheriff Grady] Judd said one of the dogs died while the animals were being removed from home for transport to the Animal Control center for examination and treatment.

I know well enough that we can’t always accept these statements at face value.  But I have to admit, the story did sound pretty bad to me.  261 counts of animal cruelty is very serious.  I imagined 261 malnourished dogs in such bad health that one of them couldn’t even tolerate being moved.  That’s bad.

Although the O’Malleys still haven’t had their day in court, at least one matter has been settled by a judge:

A judge ruled Wednesday that the Polk County Sheriff’s Office “jumped the gun” and didn’t conduct a thorough investigation before taking away about 260 dogs from a Polk City couple.

Polk County Judge Anne Kaylor concluded deputies who went to the home of home of Charles and Diane O’Malley were only justified in seizing 26 dogs, those that were later classified as being emaciated.

Twenty-six dogs were emaciated.  Oh.  Not two hundred sixty-one.  That paints rather a different picture.  Basically, a large rescue with 10% of the dogs emaciated.  Sounds like there could be a reasonable explanation even.  I don’t know.

The couple agreed to keep no more than 50 dogs at their home in future and signed over custody of the seized dogs to A New Beginning Pet Care & Rescue in Orlando.  The O’Malleys are prevented from keeping any animals at present due to their pending cruelty charges:

Each is charged with 10 counts of confining animals without sufficient food, water or exercise. Each of the charges carries a maximum of a year in jail.

Ten counts.  Oh.  Not two hundred sixty-one counts.

So how did we get from there to here?

[T]he judge said the investigation should have taken hours to complete before a decision could be reached on whether to seize any dogs.

“In this case, no such investigation took place,” Kaylor said. “A decision was made after a cursory examination.”

Witnesses testified that a veterinarian wasn’t asked to travel to the home and inspect the dogs for an opinion on their conditions.

Kaylor said Deputy Michael Burdette, who made the decision to seize the dogs, didn’t spend enough time looking over the property and dogs. He also didn’t question the O’Malleys about details on how they cared for the dogs.

So the deputy comes in, sees at a glance that 10% of the 261 dogs are emaciated, doesn’t ask any questions about the dogs’ care and decides to take every last one of them away?  Whoa.

The O’Malley dogs have been kept at the Polk County Animal Control facility in Winter Haven. The Sheriff’s Office has estimated that the expense of caring for the dogs is more than $400,000.

The judge will decide later on how much the O’Malleys will have to pay.

There have been 260 dogs living at an AC facility for about 4 months.  I’m assuming that like most AC accommodations, these are nothing fancy.  But sure, there would be costs associated with vet care and regular feeding/cleaning operations.  I don’t know if they make use of volunteers at this shelter but I’d certainly expect them to put out the call for some if they didn’t already have a strong volunteer program in place prior to the seizure.  Further I don’t know if they have a full time vet on duty or if one comes by regularly or what.  But I am assuming they don’t pay anything close to standard vet fees like what you and I would pay for service in a private practice.  By my math, the county is saying they have spent over $12 a day on every single dog for 4 months.

My thought is, if you are concerned about that cost, maybe you shouldn’t ride in someplace half-cocked and seize 261 dogs because 26 of them are extremely thin.  Maybe ask some questions to see if the people have any reasonable explanations.  Maybe offer to help get some of the dogs relocated to other rescues and determine how many the owners can take good care of.  Maybe conduct more than a blinkety-blink “investigation”.

Of the O’Malleys, the judge said:

“Nobody has testified that the O’Malleys had any malicious intent,” Kaylor said. “They simply were good people that took on too many animals – more than two people could take care of.”

I wonder how much of the $400,000 they are going to be ordered to pay.  And how much prison time, if any, they’ll get.  Stay tuned.

Thank you Susi for the updates on this case.

35 thoughts on ““Cursory Examination” Does Not Stand Up in Animal Cruelty Case

  1. “…Basically, a large rescue with 10% of the dogs emaciated. Sounds like there could be a reasonable explanation even…”

    Maybe, 10% of the dogs had not been in the O’Malley’s care long enough to have recovered from the circumstances from which they were rescued?

    You mean something like that? Imagine – a *rescue* taking in animals that are not in good condition!

    1. Yes, exactly what I was thinking. If the dog can be restored to health, why should a rescue refuse an emaciated/sick dog? That wouldn’t be much of a “rescue” if they did. But by accepting those types of cases, they are populating their kennels with dogs who look in very rough shape. Thus, the need for a thorough investigation including a discussion with the owners BEFORE taking every dog away on grounds of cruelty..

      1. Well, clearly rescues should refuse emaciated/sick animals because stuff like this can and does happen. And once it does happen the rescue can’t help any animals at all. The more special needs animals a rescue take in, the more likely exactly this type of thing is to happen.

  2. I’ve been to the Polk County AC before and they are always VERY overcrowded with both dogs and cats. I wonder how many dogs they euthanized to make room for all the dogs seized….

    1. It isn’t even JUST that. It is that they continue to kill dogs to make room for these, or most kill shelters would, especially those “overcrowded with both dogs and cats.” It’s just sick that these animals were taken away from these people without, apparently, any sort of investigation taking place.

  3. Okay…but this story scares me. WHY did the sherriff’s office start out so big and scary? Is Animal Control making money off this bust?! (Send stuff to us, we’re “saving” these poor dogs…) I’ve got quite a few foster dogs. I just took in two more and they are old and intact and need medical attention. What if somebody “turns me in?”
    Is $265 too high of an adoption fee if you’re also trying to feed, house, medicate and care for another two (or ten) dogs that are “less adoptable?”
    At some point you shoot yourself in the foot…nobody will pay the adoption fee and you’ll be stuck with way more than you can handle. Better to give them away and get out from under the burden.
    Of course, then somebody will accuse you of not screening your adoptive homes properly…
    Local Animal Control can’t seem to EVER get an animal cruelty conviction. Why is that?

    1. It should scare you. It should scare everyone. It doesn’t really matter a whole bunch, I don’t think, that they are later retracting their charges – and then apparently only under a judge’s order. These poor people were probably on the front page of the paper, probably on petabuse.com, might have lost their jobs due to the “attention”, might have lost a whole bunch of friends who believe everything in the newspaper. Now they are coming back and retracting but the damage has been done, and these people are STILL facing charges. If they are allowed to have 50 dogs they will have a lot of trouble adopting them out because they’ve probably been kicked off petfinder and every other pet listing site and are probably blackballed from adopting out dogs at the major pet stores.

      This “hoarder” meme has gotten way, way way out of hand. It ruins people’s lives and gets animals killed. Rescuers aren’t hoarders. I’m sure AC IS making money off this.

      I’ve been there. I know.

  4. Thank you! for hanging in there with me, listening and accepting my emails to you on this case.

    I don’t know the O’Malley’s personally but I know plenty of rescuers — some I’ve known for close to 20 years and highly respect their views — that do. None of them felt that these dogs were abused or starved on purpose … the O’Malley’s probably should have set themselves up as a refuge instead of a rescue but it is what it is and I feel vindicated tonight with the judge’s decision.

    Not just for the O’Malley’s but for my friends in rescue. A lot of people have been holding their breath and terrified of the outcome … not just for the O’Malley’s and their dogs but for themselves and the dogs that they are caring for.

    While it’s not over yet, it’s certainly looking much more promising. I’ll pass on the rest of the story as I can.
    Thank you again. YesBiscuit rocks!

  5. Another distressing trend we are seeing, is that rescues are intentionally NOT taking individual animals in poor condition. Some rescues are being inspected themselves (actually, here in Dallas, rescues must agree to unannounced inspections by DAS) and when animals which are sick or emaciated are found, rescues are being BLAMED! And if it’s happening here, I have to believe it’s happening in other cities that have passed equally as onerous legislation. Dallas lost many of it’s fosters living within the city limits due to the inspection clause, and rescues themselves find they must receive a “blessing” from the Dallas Animal Shelter Commission. And if a rescue for whatever reason appears on their radar, they can be harassed.

    Another legal concept that has been completely ignored, is a “seizure in place”. That would eliminate the need for the “county” or “city” to pay for the care of these animals. If, in fact, 26 were in need of care, seize those, leave the rest where they are. And by the way, it’s quite common for elderly, senior animals to be thin, or for animals suffering from minor OR major ailments to be thin, and some individuals are simply what we call “not so easy keepers”…meaning they eat well, and are healthy, but due to metabolism, or whatever else, never hold weight. And animals with cancer, or other end-of-life issues, often are very emaciated even though they are well-cared for. When a responsible owner has animals, they keep them regardless of whether they are old, sick, infirmed, and make them as comfortable as they are able to be. This will be an interesting outcome. It’s becoming more and more critical for all of us with pets.

  6. YesBiscuit,

    Isn’t it just a bit hard to believe that these people would have “starved” 10% of the dogs while, apparently, maintaining 90% in good condition??

    “Starved” is a nice buzzword. It brings in lots of money and material items (crates, bowls, leashes, whatever). For this large of a bust they probably could have gotten an emergency grant from the Petfinder or Petco foundations. It doesn’t necessarily mean the dogs were not fed. “Emaciated” is another nice buzzword and could easily mean simply “thin.” “Thin” doesn’t sell as many papers, though.

    I know when they came to take my animals they had never been inside my house nor even talked to me. There was a notice left on my door that the detective had been there and if I did not call I might be charged with cruelty to animals. I called when I got home from work and never got a call back. I asked when they came to take the animals why my call had not been returned and they said “We didn’t have to.”

    All I can do is pray that when another rescuer gets hit in your area (and by your I mean generic your) you will at least give the person the benefit of the doubt.

    Sorry for hogging the comments.

  7. “Okay…but this story scares me. WHY did the sherriff’s office start out so big and scary? Is Animal Control making money off this bust?! (Send stuff to us, we’re “saving” these poor dogs…)”

    Yes, they use these “busts” to support budget increases, egos, and donations. More so, the non-profit organizations who take the animals after the seizure make BIG money in donations and from the PR of taking the seized animals in; then they sell the animals too and that’s more money coming in the door. In many places, the NPOs are also paying for salaries for deputies to do the seizures. For example, in Houston, it appears that the Houston Humane Society and the Houston SPCA both pay for salaries for several dedicated deputies from 2 precincts to do nothing but animal abuse investigations/seizures; no doubt making tidy donations to the campaigns of the 2 JPs that generally rule on these cases as well.

    “I’ve got quite a few foster dogs. I just took in two more and they are old and intact and need medical attention. What if somebody “turns me in?””

    You should be scared by stories like this because you could be “turned in” and have this happen to you as could any animal owner these days.

    “Local Animal Control can’t seem to EVER get an animal cruelty conviction. Why is that?”

    Actually, they get thousands of convictions around the nation every year but few make the headlines. The majority of cases I’ve looked into were equally untenable as this case and generally involved a handful of personal pets. The JPs in Houston basically rubber stamp the accusations with a decision in the civil seizure case where the defendants are rarely represented by attorneys at all since they are often poor and not entitled to appointed counsel in the “civil” portion of these cases. Once the animals have been “legally” turned over to the NPO (usually with an agreement to waive the caretaking fees in exchange for signing over the animals), then criminal charges are filed and those “waived” fees may become part of court order restitution in the criminal case. They might get appointed counsel in these cases but their animals are already gone and the attorney will almost inevitably advise a plea bargain. The restitution amount that was outrageous and obscene to start with will be reduced (but still make a tidy profit for the NPO who is perpetually using these animals for fund raising and always saying they never expect to see the “waived” fees but doesn’t mention how the restitution works in criminal cases – THAT gets paid under threat of jail time) but it certainly appears the NPOs still get far more than the actual caretaking costs.

    I called this case for the crud it is back when it happened:

    1. I don’t moderate comments except as set forth in the comment policy page. I may start to moderate yours though, because it’s so very interesting.

      One of the points I was trying to convey, but obviously failed in your case, was that the story is being related very differently now. My reaction to the initial story (of 261 starving dogs resulting in 261 counts of cruelty) is obviously going to be quite different to my reaction to the story now (26 dogs emaciated, 10 counts of cruelty). The authorities related initially this was “one of the worst ever cases” etc. Now we have a judge saying the people were well intended but got in over their heads. Two different portrayals of the case, two different sets of charges. Thus, my two different reactions. That’s not so hard to understand, is it?

      1. The facts of this case haven’t changed one iota. All that changed was your perception because a judge could see the facts through the media rhetoric. The “authorities” doing animal seizures almost always spout the emotional key words like “worst ever” and “deplorable”.

        You say you know better than to believe all of what you read but, in my opinion, you are often not nearly skeptical enough and this is just one of the cases where you didn’t really read between the lines to see the truth. That is difficult to understand. I think you’re smarter and more capable than that; otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother to read your blog.

        Go ahead, moderate me. Maybe I’ll send you emails then. I don’t normally email other bloggers but I can make exceptions too :)

      2. If you look back at my original post, I remember saying something along the lines of ‘I don’t know what the real story is here, maybe they are good people who got in over their heads”. At any rate, the idea that I should look at what AC says and automatically think “They’re exaggerating by a factor of 10 and needlessly seizing 90% of these dogs” is not something I’m prepared to embrace. Indeed, I regularly read stories where AC doesn’t seem to take neglect/abuse seriously at all. (The case where the guys chainsawed off the dog’s head comes to mind. AC had been there before but decided the dog wasn’t abused enough for them to take action.) One *could* view the O’Malley case as authorities taking the case too seriously. I don’t know. I’m just a person with internet access.

      3. “the idea that I should look at what AC says and automatically think “They’re exaggerating by a factor of 10 and needlessly seizing 90% of these dogs” is not something I’m prepared to embrace. Indeed, I regularly read stories where AC doesn’t seem to take neglect/abuse seriously at all. (The case where the guys chainsawed off the dog’s head comes to mind. AC had been there before…”

        Perhaps you should consider the concept that the “authorities” may be going after the “easy” cases instead of the ones with real and serious abuse. I don’t like embracing that concept either but AC seems to be going down the same path that CPS followed and is still following – going after the “easy wins” while the children in desperate need continue to die. I can’t think of a much worse outcome for animals than for AC and law enforcement to go down this same road when we still live in a society that kills animals out of hand in shelters across the country.

  8. “…The authorities related initially this was “one of the worst ever cases” etc. Now we have a judge saying the people were well intended but got in over their heads. Two different portrayals of the case, two different sets of charges. Thus, my two different reactions. That’s not so hard to understand, is it?”

    In my view any description of the situation as described by “authorities” should be treated as at least exaggerated, possibly fictional. When the targets have a chance to tell their side a different picture usually emerges – if the media publish any more from them than “they say love their animals and took good care of them.”

    In AR-AC parlance, conditions are always “deplorable” and the case they are publicizing is always “the worst case ever.” I have read numerous credible accounts of how the photos and video in many of these seizures are staged. I’ve also seen accounts of cases where Salukis and Afghan Hounds in normal weight are described as “emaciated” and coated dogs in good weight that have been shaved down out of necessity are labeled “underweight” because they don’t look the same as they do in full coat. I know that AR-AC like to conduct crack-of-dawn raids so the overnight deposits of dogs in runs or on newspaper can be portrayed as “dogs standing in urine and feces” and how easy it is to persuade reporters and prosecutors that “responsible owners” can somehow maintain dogs in laboratory conditions 24/7.

    To me, the appropriate reaction on seeing what’s published prior to the court’s decision (contested case, not a rollover to avoid charges) is firm skepticism. And even when a case is tried, there’s no guarantee the court will have any knowledge of animal husbandry or credit the testimony of people who do.

    AC is not a disinterested party in these matters – they have every motivation to make it appear that their actions are justified. I would not give any credence to the descriptions they provide unless I was on the scene and would have given the same account of the conditions of the animals and the premises. And I would *never* expect that all the animals in the care of a rescue operation should be in the bloom of health merely by virtue of the fact that they have found a haven. That kind of miraculous restoration only happens when the NPO that coerces a surrender on Friday is able to get the animals ready for resale by Monday.

  9. Lis,

    I wish Kelley WAS snarking, but unfortunately, she is not. Taking in seriously ill, or debilitated animals, IS becoming a liability in many communities, especially those with onerous MSN or limit ordinances. It’s a catch-22 sometimes. Here in Dallas, ONLY sick or injured animals will be released at no charge to qualified rescues (or at least until the Director resigned, and the manager indicted on cruelty charges)…but those same rescues are so relentlessly inspected,and some actually harassed, that the probability of being held accountable for an animal in deplorable condition, is too great. After all, here in Dallas, they are concerned with our local rescues being hoarders. Wonder why rescues don’t “rescue”?

  10. We have heard thru the rescue grapevine that the AC has given the rescue until tomorrow at noon to get the dogs out or they will consider them abandoned and will start killing them.

    I know that 50 have been moved, maybe more today and that only representatives of A New Beginning Pet Care & Rescue in Orlando can move them or even see them at this point in time. I’ve send them two emails and have gotten no reply to see if they are having issues moving this number of dogs and what their needs are.

    Perhaps others in the rescue field could get thru to them and see what’s up. Maybe even help out if you are so inclined.

  11. I finally got some information on them if anyone is interested. The dogs are being processed from Animal Control to Polk County Animal Hospital in North Lakeland on Highway 98 North. It is very easy to find, exit 32 from I-4 go north, about two and half miles past walmart on the right.

    They have been given a time limit of tomorrow to remove all the dogs (260) or they become the property of the animal control … a little different than previous rumour but probably in the long run, not so much.

    They have moved a lot of dogs out but still have a lot to go. These dogs are mostly labs, goldens, and cross of the two although there are others. Most are appx 1 to 2 years old and most appear to be quite healthy and friendly. Many rescues are helping out but they are looking NOW for anyone that can take one or even two to foster so they can get them all out by tomorrow.

    They are also getting tired and could probably use a helpful hand processing the dogs, getting them off the truck, reading the chips and taking them into the back.
    Regardless of what the AC does, it’s not the dogs fault that they are in this mess.
    Thanks for reading and if you live in Florida, can help out or foster … thanks

  12. “Nobody has testified that the O’Malleys had any malicious intent,” Kaylor said. “They simply were good people that took on too many animals – more than two people could take care of.”

    Ignorance is bliss. And the justice system is very blissful. Coincidence? Um….No.

    You see, the animals WERE STARVING, LITERALLY. The issue isnt intent…it is reality, and the reality is that these folks are responsible for such starvation.

    Of course, if their community had a No Kill shelter, they wouldnt have taken so much responsibility on their shoulders, and would have, with confidence and assurance known that they werent sending the animals to the death chamber. But, thanks to HSUS, ASPCA, PETA, etc, there wasnt a No kill shelter there to help them, and this problem which COULD have been avoided, wasnt avoided.


    A No Kill shelter in the community would have taken care of things, and the animals wouldnt have starved. Because the people would have known that there was a TRUE shelter to turn to, to SHELTER the animals by the very definition of the word SHELTER: To protect from harm.

    Harm includes suffering, starving and death….you know…the things that regularly happen in kill ‘shelters’ supported by HSUS, ASPCA, PETA etc’s PRO kill politics.

    1. @Matt
      Uh….where do you get that the dogs were starving? This whole news article is how in fact they were NOT starving.

  13. http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/anewbeginning.html

    I finally heard back from the rescue in charge of the dogs PER judicial order — what the sheriff’s department is doing is against judicial order but apparently this particular judge is out on vacation and no one else will step up to help out the dogs at this point. That’s why the big rush.
    Above is their website and they have a paypal account for donations if one is so inclined. I haven’t tried it but you probably can earmark the funds for the polk county rescue bust dogs.

    Here is their assist list:

    We are in dire need of food, crates and dog supplies.

    Also copy paper and extra large capacity plastic sheet protectors that you put into binders to keep paperwork in order. These can be purchase at office supply stores and must be large capacity.

    Just getting the word out for fosters and adopters and keeping the story alive is a great help.

    we have secured boarding facilities and vet facilities to house til we can get fosters. We are paying for the boarding and therefore can use monetary donations as well.

    Thanks so much.

    The phone number to Polk County Animal Hospital is 863 858 2252 … this is a business so please be nice and don’t tie up the phones too much. They are doing all that they can, as fast as they can.
    thank you for all you do

    pssst, Tractor supply store right before you get to the clinic is having a decent sale on dogsupplies and food. Didn’t hear it from me.

  14. To Matt:
    Dear Sir.
    You know so little about this case. The dogs were not being starved at all. This case has nothing to do with *saving* dogs but all about abuse of power, retribution and getting even.
    It ain’t over yet and the truth will come out.
    In the meantime, we need to save some dogs thank you very much

  15. @Susan,
    This whole thing makes me ill. I hope the next time everyone sees “deplorable conditions” and “worst case we’ve ever seen” they take it with about a pallet of salt. Unfortunately I do cat rescue and am several states away so cannot help with any dogs.

  16. Kelley
    A lot of us down here in central florida have been facilitating between outrage, fear and sick since May … so you’re not alone.
    Just help me get the word out and keep this story alive.

    It’s for the dogs.

  17. I am not sure what you are asking.
    The O’Malleys still have to face criminal charges of abuse but it’s down from ten counts as explained above from the original 261.

    Charles was not seen yesterday, probably at work (yes these two people are tax payers that held down jobs while this happened to them) but Diana was. According to my source, she looked good but was busy processing the dogs. That’s all I can tell you.

  18. @Susan,
    I was just asking how they were. I am glad they are ok. I hold the apparently bizarre opinion that people are important. As important as animals, even.

  19. I dig it Kelley … I agree. The O’Malley’s are devoted to their dogs and helping the dogs, help them I think.

  20. I went to the vet’s this morning to deliver food. Things are much calmer than the picture painted of the last two days. I do believe that they got all the dogs out except 25 that the AC won’t release to them. They do not know why the AC won’t let them have them but can’t do anything about it at this point in time.

      1. Yes, that’s what the paper said. I don’t know. The judge who made the verdict is *on vacation* now and per New Beginning representative Debbie that emailed me last night, they can’t do anything about it until she gets back. She did not give any other reason for it.

Leave a Reply