CLEARWATER — Two weeks ago, a Pinellas County judge ordered a Clearwater woman to clean up her filthy house. Officials removed 11 cats, then returned for a followup this week and took six more cats and two dogs.
They also declared the home uninhabitable.
Conditions inside were so bad that a sheriff's deputy reported Wednesday that, "I could not make my way inside the front door but I could see the living room and it was covered with trash from floor to the ceiling and smelled of urine."
The house at 1937 Alton Drive belongs to Bobbie Hancock, 80. She lives there with her daughter Rebecca Ann Fancher, 53.
Greg Andrews, operations manager with Pinellas County Animal Services, said the situation had improved little since the judge's cleanup order.
Andrews said two pit bull terriers, tethered outside the home, and six cats in animal crates remained at the property when officials returned. Animal Services first issued Hancock a warning on July 15, finding her in violation of the county's new anti-tethering ordinance. It prohibits tying a dog to a tree or other object, labeling such acts a form of animal cruelty.
On Wednesday, Hancock was issued the first citation based on the new ordinance. Officials also removed Hancock's remaining animals, which she voluntarily surrendered.
Several other agencies were at the scene, including the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Environmental Management. The latter declared the home uninhabitable, forcing Hancock and Fancher to stay with friends, said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor.
Nestor said the Florida Department of Children and Families had been contacted out of concern that the women will become homeless.
Andrews said the saga began after a July 13 hearing before Pinellas Circuit Judge John Schaefer on a case against Hancock prompted by complaints from neighbors.
Schaefer found the property in violation of three county codes that govern trash and debris on private property. He gave her 60 days to comply.
Two days later, Pinellas County Animal Services and the Humane Society of Pinellas inspected the home. Andrews said they found ceiling-high mounds of trash bordered with narrow pathways and cockroach and spider infestations.
"This house was one of the worst houses we have ever gone into," Andrews said. "The animals were not in the best condition but were not in any immediate threat as far as health goes."
Andrews said all the animals (17 cats, two dogs) are being assessed for health and temperament.
"These animals are not friendly, they are not socialized," Andrews said.
Sheriff's Deputy Joseph Minor reported that Hancock told him she had lived in the home for at least 16 years, that she and her daughter had become overwhelmed with cats in the house and that she had called the Humane Society for help.
They also told Minor they have had issues cleaning the residence and have been doing the best they can.