After two standard poodles and a giant schnauzer were found dead in separate cages inside a north Clearwater home three weeks ago, authorities suspected their dog sitter had left them alone for extended periods, without food or water.
Wednesday, Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrested Donald H. Bryant, 54, as he went to the house at 2161 Hillwood Court to retrieve his belongings. He was charged with four counts of animal cruelty.
The dogs likely had gone without food or water for more than a month, sheriff's spokesman Jim Bordner said Thursday.
A fourth dog, a standard poodle named Cajun, survived. It weighed 20 pounds less than its normal weight and was covered in its own waste when found by deputies Nov. 7.
The house is owned by Gary Nolan, 67, who said he has been in New Orleans since late August and had allowed Bryant, his nephew, to live there.
Bryant claimed to be a groomer and handler and had promised the dogs' owners he would care for their dogs and show them locally, detectives said.
All four dogs were registered with the American Kennel Club and came from champion bloodlines, Bordner said.
Bryant was released from jail Thursday after posting $40,000 bail. He could not be reached for comment.
Nolan said Bryant had received weekly outpatient mental health care from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, but apparently stopped this year. Nolan said he allowed Bryant live in his home because he wanted him to have a decent environment.
Nolan said Bryant gets Social Security disability checks, and started caring for dogs to have something to do.
"This whole thing is so bizarre," Nolan said from Louisiana. "People should know about this so they will think twice before hurting animals."
Neighbors noticed something was amiss in the house at the beginning of November, when a Pinellas County utilities worker, seeking to read a meter, knocked on the door and saw a lot of flies buzzing inside.
One neighbor, Frances Missailidis, 78, called sheriff's officials a week later, concerned about the overwhelming smell coming from the house. She told them she feared there was a dead person inside.
Instead, the officials found dogs.
They were locked in 3- by 2-foot crates, each in a separate room. The schnauzer and two poodles were in advanced stages of decomposition. There was no water in the crates, and there was dog food scattered around the crates but none inside, where the animals could have reached it, detectives said.
Cajun, in spite of her frail condition, wagged her tail when sheriff's officials approached, they said.
She was taken to Pinellas County Animal Control, where she was treated for three weeks for malnourishment, hookworm, roundworm and whipworm. She is now back with her owner, Myrna Cagle, of Lacombe, La., who said she is relieved to have her dog back alive. She plans to have her tested for heartworms as well, she said.
Cagle said she met Bryant while traveling around the country showing her dogs. She and Bryant even ended up traveling together to a few shows in the Midwest, she said.
"He seemed to be a very likeable person," Cagle said.
She agreed to send Cajun to stay with Bryant so she could be shown in Florida.
A few neighbors said they had seen Bryant around the house once or twice between late September, when he apparently left, and Nov. 7, when the dogs were found, detectives said.
Dr. Dewayne Taylor, the veterinarian at Pinellas County Animal Control who treated Cajun, said the length of time a dog can survive without water depends on heat and humidity. The hotter the weather, the faster the dog will dehydrate, Taylor said. He couldn't say how long a standard poodle or schnauzer can survive without water, but he said it is "doubtful they could go six weeks, even a month without any water."
When he treated Cajun, she was emaciated, but not badly dehydrated, he said.
Times staff writer Sheela Raman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4158.