BROOKSVILLE — Neighbors on a dead-end road in rural Brooksville were awakened around 3 a.m. Thursday to the sound of numerous dogs barking outside.
When Hernando County Sheriff's deputies arrived to investigate, they found 63 starving Shih Tzu dogs running in the street and yards, many of them with numerous types of skin lesions, matted fur, and covered with fleas, urine and feces.
A Sheriff's Office report said that the dogs, found abandoned near Hilton Drive and Holden Drive, varied in age from mature dogs to mother dogs with weeks-old puppies.
Hernando County Animal Control supervisor Patrick Pace, who rolled up in his vehicle shortly after deputies arrived, described the scene as the most bizarre he had ever seen.
"There were dogs running everywhere you looked," Pace said. "We spent six hours looking for them until we found them all."
Once captured, the dogs were taken to the animal control facility on Olive Street where they were cordoned off in several kennels to await evaluation. Although some spent their time sleeping Thursday afternoon, a number of the dogs seemed eager to give a friendly greeting to any visitor that walked by. In one kennel, a mother Shih Tzu nursed five puppies.
Pace said that while none of the dogs appeared to face any life-threatening injuries, a number had lesions that appeared to be caused by severe flea infestation. All were in need of intensive grooming.
"It's obvious that these dogs have been severely neglected," Pace said. "It's terrible to see it."
One older dog had hair so matted that its eyes could barely be seen. Staffers also discovered a pine cone that had become tightly bound in its fur.
Pace said that the agency will spend the next few days evaluating the dogs and providing any necessary medical treatment and grooming care.
The Sheriff's Office said the dogs may have been from a puppy mill or backyard breeder. Abandonment of animals is a violation of county code.
Anyone with information about these dogs is asked to call the Hernando County Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830. Or if you wish to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward up to $1,000, call the Hernando Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-866-990-TIPS or e-mail a tip by clicking the Crimestoppers link at hernandosheriff.org.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.