SPRING HILL — Authorities believe Frances Terry Evans thought she could fool Pasco County code enforcement officials by hiding a truck full of cats and dogs in Spring Hill. But her plan was foiled, and Evans now faces 53 counts of animal cruelty and has been cited for 53 counts of animal abandonment.
Evans, 52, packed 50 cats in plastic containers with air holes drilled in the sides and three dogs into the back of a U-Haul truck and attempted to hide them behind the Publix store at Mariner Boulevard and County Line Road on Tuesday afternoon.
The subject of an ongoing investigation into animal hoarding in Pasco, Evans planned to return for the animals after code enforcement officers conducted a scheduled compliance check of her home. But a tip to code enforcement had officers waiting in the parking lot to see Evans drop off the truck, then ride off with her husband in a second car, said Carol Clarke, a Pasco zoning administrator.
Pasco code enforcement officers called the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to report the abandonment. Deputies and Hernando Animal Services officers arrived and could hear animals in distress. They opened the unlocked truck door and reported it was very hot inside. There was no food or water for the animals, and they were in distress amid urine and feces, Clarke said.
Officers determined that the animals needed immediate veterinary attention. Because Pasco code enforcement officials refused to accept the animals, Hernando Animal Services officers located Evans and had her drive the U-Haul to Hernando Animal Services, accompanied by a deputy. There, Evans surrendered the animals.
Individual exams showed the cats were thin, infested with fleas and ear mites, and showed signs of infection. Most were not socialized. Managing veterinarian Lisa Centonze determined that 39 should be euthanized.
Rose Carlisle, a neighbor of Evans' Good Hope Lane home in the Pasco portion of Spring Hill, said Evans had tried to help out feeding homeless cats, but fell on hard financial times.
"(Evans) wanted to do the right thing but couldn't," Carlisle said. "The animals were her life. She loves them, but she couldn't afford to do what she really needed to do for them."
Clarke dreads the thought of what might have happened to the rest of the animals had officers not been tipped off to Evans' plan.
"You hear all the time what happens when somebody leaves an animal in a hot vehicle," Clarke said. "It's just a terribly, terribly sad story."
The 11 cats and three dogs saved are available for adoption.
Evans was arrested Wednesday and was being held in Pasco County in lieu of $26,500 bail; she also faces a fine of $26,500 on the abandonment citations.
Staff writer Alison Barnwell, news researcher Carolyn Edds and Bay News 9 contributed to this report.