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Pinellas dealer faces animal neglect charges

The East Lake woman who had 120 dogs taken from her home faces 46 animal neglect charges despite a civil judge's order that 60 of the dogs be returned.

Each of the misdemeanor charges Teresita Hughes faces carry up to one year in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

Hughes' lawyer, David Parry, said his client will plead not guilty.

In April, officials of the Suncoast Animal League in Palm Harbor had the Pinellas Sheriff's Office accompany them to Hughes' home after receiving complaints about the living conditions of the dogs there. The league took possession of 120 Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers and Maltese and went to court last month to gain custody.

Pinellas County Judge Myra Scott McNary ordered Suncoast director Rick Chaboudy to return 60 of the healthiest dogs because Chaboudy didn't have the legal authority to confiscate them.

Parry said that's still the case and the new charges don't change anything.

"They don't have a legal standing to the dogs,'' he said. "What if she is found not guilty? They don't have the right to take them at all."

Hughes has been a permitted dealer with Pinellas County Animal Services since March 1999 and passed all her six-month inspections.

She installed a special drainage system for the dogs and had a closed circuit television so she could monitor the dogs from other rooms.

Animal Services had inspected the Hughes home in February and found that she had 86 dogs on hand and had sold seven puppies to out-of-state customers since the last inspection in August of 2007. All the paperwork was up to date and the dogs were current on their shots and licenses, according to Animal Services.

But when Suncoast returned in April, they were met with a horrific odor and 120 dogs, many of them sick, officials say.

Linda Britland, Animal Services field manager, said her inspectors don't have the authority to search homes. She said inspections are done to ensure the animals have food, water, shelter, room to move around, clean air flow and that they are up on their shots.

She said the inspectors are not veterinarians and can only inspect what the homeowner allows them to see.

"When they take us into a bedroom or back room and they say this is what we have, that's what we have to inspect, we can't just walk around their homes," Britland said.

And because of recent budget cuts, inspections will become less frequent. Unless there is a complaint, breeders will now be inspected once a year instead of twice.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com

Pinellas dealer faces animal neglect charges 08/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:51pm]
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