Hernando County deputies serving a warrant at a man's home Thursday morning discovered 22 dogs, three cats and a Burmese pythonliving in what they termed "deplorable conditions.''
The floors of the home at 24514 Audubon Drive in Brooksville were soaked in urine and covered in feces, authorities said. The snake had no water, and many of the dogs had fleas and skin disorders.
Deputies arrested John Arthur Stansfield, 46, on charges of grand theft and dealing in stolen property. They have begun an animal cruelty investigation, but no charges have been filed in that case.
"We only went there to serve the arrest warrants," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Black said. "And then we found all the animals and the deplorable conditions."
Debra Harmon, who lives at the home and claims to be Stansfield's former wife, said she owns all of the animals. Hernando County Animal Services removed the animals from the home, took them to a local veterinarian for evaluation and then transported them to the Animal Services office.
Liana Teague, animal services manager, wasn't in the office Thursday afternoon and was unavailable for comment.
Harmonsaid the animals weren't being abused and that, in fact, she had opened her home to many unwanted dogs over the years. She said Stansfield was simply being vindictive and trying to hurt her by having the animals taken away.
"I've been trying to get him out of here," Harmon said, her face turning red and her eyes welling with tears.
"I know how to take care of animals. People gave me lots of these dogs because they have skin conditions."
Standing outside of her modest home on the outskirts of Brooksville on Thursday afternoon, Harmon reeled off the names of the dogs, their breeds, some of their skin diseases and treatments and how they came to live with her. In particular, Harmon referred to a 5-year-old black Pomeranian she named Fiona.
"She's a very mean little dog," Harmon said. "She was mean when I got her, and her owners didn't want her anymore. But she's a pretty little dog."
Trying to explain the conditions that the animals live in, Harmon said Stansfield was supposed to clean up after the animals - she said she paid him $20 a day for the task - but he failed to do so that morning and left animal waste on newspapers that covered the floors.
When the deputies arrived to serve the arrest warrants, Harmon said, she believed Stansfield tried to get her in trouble to draw attention away from his own legal problems.
"There's nothing wrong with these dogs ... maybe some of them need a bath," said Harmon, who was at work when the authorities came to her home. "But they're not malnourished. They only found newspapers with poop on the floor. Since (Stansfield) didn't clean it up, it looked bad that morning."
One of Harmon's neighbors, Glenn Pirl, said Harmon generally takes good care of the animals and accused Stansfield of trying to stir up trouble.
"Debbie has a big heart," Pirl said. "Instead of seeing them go to a pound, she gives these dogs a home. There's not a problem here at all."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.