Thursday, April 19, 2018
Public safety

Hillsborough deputies accuse woman of child neglect and animal cruelty, find wretched conditions

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — Deputies got a tip about neglected children, and when they arrived at the Town 'N Country home Wednesday, they were blown away by the deplorable conditions.

The house reeked of urine. They found a dead bird. Out back, 22 dogs were confined without food or water. One had a broken leg.

Deputies arrested Cynthia Cuervo and put her daughters — ages 11 and 13 — into state care.

She faces two counts of child neglect, five counts of felony cruelty to animals, 32 counts of unlawful confinement or abandonment of an animal and battery on a law enforcement officer.

Photos taken by Animal Services show a house filled with trash and feces. Hillsborough County Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan called Cuervo a "hoarder of the worst kind."

And though it was the first time she was charged with child neglect, employees of Animal Services know her well. They've been dealing with Cuervo since 2007, Ryan said.

That year, authorities rescued five dogs that were in a dark, unventilated shed in the back of the Town 'N Country house, according to Animal Services. Felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors and eventually dropped.

Then in January 2008, managers of an apartment complex Cuervo had moved to got a complaint about odor coming from her unit. They found a crate with feces. Sixteen dogs and a crate of bones were seized, Ryan said.

A judge forbade Cuervo to own animals. The charges were dropped.

Then, just months later, a deputy patrolling neighborhood heard dogs barking in the garage. She knew Cuervo wasn't supposed to own animals, so authorities intervened, Ryan said.

This time, they took away 14 dogs.

In August 2010, Cuervo was sentenced to five years' probation in that case and was prohibited from living with animals — even if someone else owned them, Ryan said.

That didn't last long, according to authorities.

Cuervo was booked into the Orient Road Jail late Wednesday, her bond set at $45,000.

Because she wasn't allowed to own animals, she does not have custody of the 22 dogs seized Wednesday. Animal Services hopes to have them ready for adoption by Valentine's Day.

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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Updated: 04/19/18