PALM HARBOR — A 39-year-old man accused of starving several pets to death said he couldn't afford to take care of them, authorities said.
Pinellas deputies arrested Michael Edward Waite, of 516 Rebstock Blvd. in Palm Harbor, on a charge of animal cruelty. He was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on Friday in lieu of $5,000 bail.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Waite's estranged wife discovered the animals when she went to drop off their three children at his house after picking them up from school.
Deputies said the couple separated in late April. Waite's wife, Joanna Waite, told deputies that her husband had been in charge of the family's 12 pets since they separated and she moved from the family home to Pinellas Park.
On Thursday afternoon around 3 p.m., Joanna picked up their children from school and brought them to the Palm Harbor home. Michael Edward Waite was not there and the locks had been changed, deputies said.
One of the children was able to get inside the home through a window, then unlocked the door. Joanna Waite entered the home and found unsanitary living conditions, some dead animals and some that were suffering from malnutrition, according to the Sheriff's Office.
One of the family's birds, a blue and gold Macaw, was barely alive. Joanna Waite took the bird to her veterinarian, where it later died, then called deputies. The vet said the bird died of starvation, according to an arrest report.
Joanna Waite, 34, told deputies that her husband had not mentioned to her that he was having any problems taking care of the pets.
Deputies called SPCA Tampa Bay officials, who seized one cat and two kittens that were suffering from starvation, authorities said. Two dogs — a golden retriever and a chihuahua — and another cat were healthy enough to be turned over to Joanna Waite.
Deputies said the house was "in a state of deplorable unsanitary condition," with animal feces and urine all over the floors, carpeting and furniture, along with dirty bird cages. No pet food was found at the home, the Sheriff's Office said.
During an interview with investigators, Michael Waite said "he could not afford the animals and had stopped feeding them," according to the Sheriff's Office. He reportedly told deputies that two of the birds that were missing — an African gray parrot and a Moluccan cockatoo — had died and he had thrown them in the trash.
Originally, five pets — three birds and two kittens — were confirmed dead from "lack of care and intentional starvation," the Sheriff's Office said.
The two other kittens that the SPCA took into custody later died, said SPCA Tampa Bay spokeswoman Nora Hawkins.
Another kitten is missing. Investigators said they believe it died along with the two other kittens found dead in the home.
The SPCA's Hawkins encouraged pet owners to be responsible and surrender their animals if they find they cannot care for them.
"If an owner is in a situation of financial hardship, we can take their animals and try to place them for adoption," Hawkins said. "There is no reason for any animal to suffer like this."
Deputies said Michael Waite told them "he was glad he was being arrested because he needed this push to straighten out his life," the Sheriff's Office said.
Waite does not have a criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.