No charges expected in animal case

ENGLEWOOD — No charges are expected to be filed against a woman whose 23 cats, seven dogs and three cockatiels were rescued Tuesday afternoon while she was being treated in a local hospital, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

EARS Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter, rescued from the home all the live animals that could be found.

Accounts from the Sheriff’s Office and EARS differ on what exactly happened at the home.

Eleven of the cats found in the home were adopted from EARS, according to the SCSO report. But EARS says that is not correct.

“A group (like EARS) claiming to be a ‘no-kill’ shelter also has the responsibility to ensure animals are placed in proper homes with owners who have the means and the ability to care for them, not to just off-load them to homes without regard for the animals’ well-being or future,” said Wendy Rose, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, in an email to the Sun Wednesday.

Deva Ballantyne, adoptions and store manager at EARS, said the owner never adopted from the sanctuary.

“All of our animals are microchipped,” Ballantyne said. “None of her animals are chipped to my knowledge. The cats she took in are a mix of strays. Some were evicted from homes.”

Sarasota County Animal Services visited the home on two separate occasions, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Carl Sellitti visited the home after receiving a call about dead animals on Feb. 7, and was advised that Leslie Taylor, a friend of the homeowner, had been taking care of the pets since the owner was hospitalized, the report stated.

Julia Mazzucco, Taylor’s daughter, reported she allowed Sellitti inside the home Feb. 7, but the officer was allowed to see only the front living room, which was the cleanest part of the house. She didn’t inform him of the dead animals, or show him the rest of the house, the report stated.

Ballantyne said the fact that the officer was allowed only in the living room should have raised a red flag.

When Renee Shope from Sarasota County Animal Services arrived at the home Tuesday, she was informed by Taylor and Mazzucco that living conditions in the home had been bad for years, according to the report. Taylor arrived Feb. 7 to assist the homeowner, and another woman took the owner to the hospital a Feb. 8. Shope tried to contact the owner multiple times and later discovered a woman named Linda Combs had power of attorney for her. Shope was informed the owner gave EARS permission to take the cats, according to the report.

Shope was informed that Mazzucco said the homeowner called her two weeks ago asking her to dispose of the dead animals, but Mazzucco admitted she couldn’t do it. Combs said the owner wanted her to take the dogs but Combs wanted EARS to take them, along with the cats, according to the report.

“The animals recovered from the home would most certainly not be euthanized by Sarasota County Animal Services,” Rose said in an email. “They would have been medically treated and, if healthy, placed into our adoption program.”

Shope took photographs inside the home and Animal Services removed the dead animals. Based on the state of decomposition, they had been dead for a while, according to the report. Some of the cages had food and water. Others did not. The dogs appeared to be at healthy weights, but Ballantyne said they were matted, flea-infested and covered in waste. Newborn kittens’ eyes were matted shut when they were removed from the home. There may be more cats hiding inside the home, the report stated.

To adopt any of the rescued animals or for more information, go to http://www.ears4life.com, or call 941-475-0636. EARS is located at 145 W. Dearborn St., Englewood.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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