NEW PORT RICHEY — Diane Lombardi was insistent to the end that she took care of her dogs.
"Most of my animals were extremely healthy," Lombardi told a judge Thursday as she was sentenced on 42 counts of animal cruelty.
But Senior Circuit Judge Radford Smith let her say little else, calling her case one of the most extreme examples of animal mistreatment he has seen.
He sentenced Lombardi, 61, to 10 days in jail, followed by 21 years of probation — six months for each dog.
Prosecutors said Lombardi kept the animals in deplorable conditions in her house on Frost Drive in Hudson. They were forced to live in their own feces and fight each other for food. Many were emaciated, had worms and were infested with fleas.
Lombardi testified that she started out with only one dog. She took in strays and rehabilitated animals for other people. The pack quickly grew. By November 2007, she had more than 40 dogs while trying to care for her disabled sister and another sick woman.
When her sister was admitted to the hospital, Lombardi lost any ability to take care of the dogs. She and her sister eventually moved into the garage because the dogs had taken over the house. The other woman stayed in a back bedroom.
After both women died within two weeks of each other, authorities went in and discovered the conditions in the house.
Animal control officers confiscated the dogs, and 37 had to be euthanized. Lombardi got to keep one — Susie, who still lives with her. The house was later demolished.
Lombardi, who was affable during trial and sometimes called the judge and her lawyer "Honey," denied some of the charges against her. When showed pictures of the sickly animals, she said most of them weren't hers — there must have been a mix-up at the shelter. Her daughter testified, accusing prosecutors of doctoring photographs from inside the house to make conditions look worse.
A self-proclaimed dog lover, Lombardi said she couldn't bring herself to turn them over to a shelter where she knew they'd be euthanized.
Judge Smith told her euthanasia would have been preferable to what Lombardi put the dogs through.
"That is a sad fact, but far, far, far superior to what happened to these dogs," Smith told her.
He ordered her to have a psychological evaluation and participate in any therapy or treatment that's recommended. He gave her a suspended six-month jail sentence on each cruelty conviction, meaning if she violates her probation she'll wind up in jail.
He said she could keep Susie, but for the length of her probation she cannot have more than one pet.
"You must provide good care to this animal," the judge said.
Lombardi protested when told she would go directly to jail. She wanted time to get her life in order. She's a Roman Catholic, she said, and wanted to be able to attend church today, Good Friday.
The judge didn't relent.
"I think it's important for you to know what being in jail is like," he said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.