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Trial starts for Pasco dog owner facing 42 counts of animal cruelty

Diane Lombardi of Hudson is on trial for 42 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty at the West Pasco Judicial Center on Tuesday.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Diane Lombardi of Hudson is on trial for 42 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty at the West Pasco Judicial Center on Tuesday.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Dog No. 7705 was emaciated with lacerations on its face. Even amid the chaos of animal control workers raiding the Hudson house where the dog lived in a wild and multiplying pack, its heart rate was sluggish.

"I was very worried that this dog was about to die," said Terry Spencer, the veterinarian who examined the animals when they were discovered on Nov. 14, 2007.

Now the woman responsible for caring for them is on trial.

Diane Lombardi, 61, faces 42 counts of animal cruelty, misdemeanor charges that each carry up to a year in jail.

Her trial began Tuesday.

Spencer testified about the condition of each dog: worms, fleas, malnourished, thin coats. Some were too wild to be examined, seemingly never having had contact with a human.

Only two were puppies, because in a situation where the animals would have to compete for limited food, Spencer said, puppies would lose.

Pasco Sheriff's deputies and animal control workers went into Lombardi's house after two people died there within two weeks in the fall of 2007.

The dogs had the run of the main part of the house, which was covered in feces and littered with decaying furniture. Bugs swarmed and crawled on the walls.

Linda Lesack, Lombardi's friend who was in failing health, stayed in a bedroom where the dogs couldn't go. Lombardi fed her meals through a window.

Lombardi herself retreated to live in the garage. Her sister Lois Lombardi, who had cerebral palsy, stayed with her.

Then Lois, who was 64, died on Nov. 6, 2007, followed less than two weeks later by Lesack, 65. That's when sheriff's deputies discovered the conditions in that house and another one across the street that Lombardi inherited from her parents.

All but one of the dogs were removed. Lombardi petitioned for and won back custody of one of them. Most had to be euthanized. The house, on Frost Drive in the Viva Villas subdivision, was eventually demolished.

Assistant State Attorney Kris Parker told jurors in his opening statement about the conditions when animal control workers arrived.

"The smell was so bad that they couldn't get in," he said. "The door wouldn't even open all the way because of the petrified dog feces that had caked around the door."

He said when the dogs were taken to the county shelter, it was a luxury compared with what they had been living in.

"The dogs were starving from fighting with one another," he said. "Only the strong ones were able to eat."

Lombardi's attorney, Dennis Watson, said the situation wasn't as bad as authorities described.

He said Lombardi took sick animals to veterinarians and kept them all fed.

"She was doing her best for them," he said. "She put a roof over their head and gave them food."

Lombardi told the Times in 2007 that she started out with one dog nine years earlier. Then she got another, and it had puppies. Then those puppies had puppies.

As time went by, she took in strays and let people leave their sick dogs with her to rehabilitate, she said.

Animal Services began citing her in 2003. Improper confinement of an aggressive animal, failure to vaccinate, animal running at large. She paid hundreds of dollars in fines.

She acknowledged lying to authorities about the number of dogs she was keeping in her house and the house across the street that she inherited after her parents died.

"I don't believe in having animals put to sleep," she said at the time. "As a result, I kind of got too many."

The trial should finish today. Lombardi is expected to testify.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Trial starts for Pasco dog owner facing 42 counts of animal cruelty 03/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 9:39pm]

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