TAMPA — Hillsborough County Animal Services officers seized 20 dogs living in deplorable conditions Tuesday from a woman forbidden to own any dogs at all.
In February, a judge ordered Patricia Dickson, 73, to part with her dogs and to own no more than three cats after she was cited for a third offense of not having valid registrations and current rabies vaccinations for her dogs.
But Tuesday, animal control officers acting on an anonymous tip found 19 poodles and a chow chow mix living in unsanitary conditions in a small space in Dickson's home at 810 Lexington Blvd., said Pam Perry, the investigations manager for Hillsborough County Animal Services.
Dickson faces two felony charges and 20 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty, said Marti Ryan, a spokeswoman for Animal Services.
The dogs were living amid their own waste, Perry said. Dickson had confined them to the kitchen, where pieces of urine-soaked cardboard served as beds, Perry said.
The dogs, including four 6-week-old puppies and six dogs older than 9, suffer from coccidia and whipworms — parasites caused by eating in the same place they defecate — as well as cataracts, hair loss and more, Ryan said.
Animal control officers discovered Dickson was breeding dogs after an anonymous tip from a potential puppy buyer, citing deplorable living conditions for the dogs, Perry said.
Dickson said she admits the dogs could be healthier but does not have the money to take care of them properly. She said she had plans to euthanize the older dogs but found she could not afford it.
"The old dogs are in bad shape, but the young dogs just need a haircut, that's it," she said.
John Watts, Dickson's neighbor for the past 20 years, defended her.
"If she had the money, she would have had them all groomed," he said.
Perry said the number of animals in Dickson's care is the main problem.
"It's just an overwhelming situation where she has too many animals to care for," Perry said.
There currently are no plans to euthanize the dogs, Perry said.
Because Dickson said she will not voluntarily give up her dogs, Animal Services will fight for custody in court, a process that could take three months, Perry said.
Officers also found three birds and a sugar glider, a small marsupial, in Dickson's home, and at least three cats on her property, Perry said. Animal Services did not take those away.
Dickson has been warned multiple times for rabies and tag violations, Ryan said. In 2003, a judge dismissed a case against Dickson for not having valid registration for her dogs. Dickson also was fined for an animal consumer guarantee violation, which Ryan said was probably a complaint by a buyer of a sick puppy.
"We've been trying to work with her, but at this time it's got to stop," Perry said.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.