Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando County couple who operated Our Animal Haus charged with cruelty

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County couple who operated a nonprofit animal shelter from which more than 200 animals were ordered removed in October will face criminal charges in connection with two distressed horses found on their property.

Assistant State Attorney Jason Smith said he is charging Carol Mas and her husband, Estebahn Agustinho, with two counts each of misdemeanor animal cruelty. If convicted, they could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Smith said the charges are based on evidence and photos submitted by Hernando County Animal Services after a monthlong investigation into Our Animal Haus, a shelter Mas and Agustinho operated on their 12-acre ranch.

During a mid October visit, animal control officers discovered an elderly chestnut mare named Ginger so weak she could barely stand. Officers removed the horse from the property on Lanark Road, but it was too late. A few days later, the horse was euthanized after a veterinarian deemed it too ill to be saved.

Another horse was later taken from the property and treated for malnutrition at Animal Services headquarters, and it has since been placed with another owner.

Officers also uncovered incidences of chronic malnutrition in nearly the entire animal population. In addition, many animals were found with untreated wounds and chronic, life-threatening diseases, and there were numerous cleanliness issues in areas where animals were housed.

County Judge Kurt Hitzemann in late October ordered the removal of more than 40 dogs, 98 cats, 48 birds, three horses, a donkey and other pets from the property.

Mas, who did not respond to an interview request Friday, has repeatedly railed against Hernando County Animal Services on her Facebook page and other Web sites, saying her actions were unfairly misinterpreted by authorities.

The investigation into Our Animal Haus was the first in a recent spate of inquiries into troubled animal rescue facilities in Hernando County.

On Nov. 12, Hernando County Animal Services employees responding to a complaint at a home on Tranquility Lane in Brooksville found nine horses in poor condition because of a lack of proper food. Two of the horses were down and were euthanized on the advice of a veterinarian.

Jerry Conley, 58, and Jillian Medina, 25, the owners of the rescue facility, called Living Ranch, both face eight counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty.

On Monday, animal control officers removed a dozen distressed animals from the Brooksville home of Douglas Holt, 46, and Lorri Schiller, 39, operators of the nonprofit corporation Disaster Animal Rescue/Response Team of Florida and Hoofs, Paws and Claws Inc. Officers also found the decaying carcasses of two guinea pigs, a ferret and a chinchilla inside the residence.

All three rescue facilities suffered from financial woes, a trait that has become all too common, said Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast.

Schoch said many people don't realize the amount of money, time and effort needed to keep an animal shelter in operation.

"It can't all be about having a big heart," Schoch said. "You need to have policies, guidelines and supervision. It's a business."

One of the things Schoch would like to see is a statewide coalition that could keep better tabs on small nonprofit shelters.

"There has to be a way to control it better than it is now," Schoch said. "In the end, it's the animals that ultimately pay the price when a shelter runs into trouble."

Logan Neill can be reached at or 848-1435.

Hernando County couple who operated Our Animal Haus charged with cruelty 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  2. Minors also a training ground for umpires with big-league dreams

    The Heater

    Umpire Tom Fornarola, 23, left, and Taylor Payne, 24, facing, talk before the start of the Gulf Coast League game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers at the Tigertown complex in Lakeland, Fla. on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.
  3. In Florida, nation's only lightning center closes after DARPA cuts funding (w/video)


    University of Florida professor Martin Uman usually spends much of this summer at an old Army base about an hour northeast of Gainesville, shooting rockets at thunderclouds, then measuring the bright flashes of lightning that followed.

    Rocket-and-wire triggered lightning at the University of Florida's International Center for Lightning Research and Testing, which recently lost federal funding. A rocket trailing a grounded wire is launched toward an active thunderstorm at the ICLRT. One launch is from a tower, one from ground. When the wire is about as high as the Empire State Building, lightning is induced to strike the top of the wire, much as it strikes tall objects like the ESB. Interestingly, the cloud charge source is about 3 miles high, so a 300 yard-long wire can cause a 3 mile or more long lightning.  After that, there are several normal tortuous strokes ( downward leaders from the cloud charge/upward return strokes) which can be seen as the wind blows the individual strokes to the right. The time between strokes is about 50 thousands of a second. Between some strokes, continuing current can be seen. Continuing current is what generally starts forest fires. [Photo by Dr. Dustin Hill]
  4. Editorial: Reasonable clarity on gambling in Florida


    Gambling expansion strategies — and misfires — are nearly an annual ritual in Florida. There were the eight counties that voted to allow slot machines but were blocked by the Florida Supreme Court. There was the governor's $3 billion deal with the Seminole Tribe in 2015 that was never approved by the …

    Gov. Rick Scott agreed to a much simpler deal with the Seminole Tribe that embraces the status quo instead of expansion. And that’s a good thing.
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]