NEW PORT RICHEY — Diane Lombardi started out with just one dog, an Australian shepherd named Bear. Then she took in Susie, who was followed later by Hank.
By the fall of 2007, Lombardi's litter had ballooned to about 40 dogs. And when her sister, who was 64 and disabled, was admitted to a hospital, Lombardi lost any ability to control the animals and the situation.
She couldn't find homes for the dogs, and she said she couldn't abide the idea of taking them to a shelter where she knew they'd be euthanized.
"I kind of got in over my head," Lombardi testified Wednesday in her trial on 42 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
After deliberating for less than an hour Wednesday, a jury found her guilty of all counts.
Lombardi, 61, will be sentenced today. She faces possible jail time and probation.
Lombardi owned a home on Frost Drive in the Viva Villas subdivision in Hudson and another across the street that she inherited from her parents. She had been taking care of her sister and another sick woman. After both of them died in November 2007, authorities went in and discovered the conditions.
Lombardi and her sister had been living in the garage because the dogs had taken over the house. The other woman stayed in a back bedroom.
Prosecutor Kris Parker called the main living area a "despicable hell" — feces several inches thick, bugs swarming and an overwhelming, toxic odor. A veterinarian who examined the dogs found them all infested with fleas. Many were underweight and had worms and parasites.
Eventually, 37 were euthanized. Lombardi's house was demolished.
Her lawyer called the situation sad, but not a crime.
"This is a case of someone doing her best," Dennis Watson told jurors.
Lombardi's daughter testified that her mother always fed the dogs, even if it meant going without food for herself. Rachel Lombardi also tried to allege that the photos taken in her mother's house had been altered.
"There's places where animal feces couldn't even get, on walls and windows, unless someone put it there," Rachel Lombardi said.
Lombardi acknowledged that there were too many dogs for her to care for herself.
"It was too many. I wanted the dogs to have individual attention," she said. But "as far as cruelty, my God, never could I ever hurt an animal."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.