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.