When the dogs heard human voices, some of them jumped through an open window and ran to help on Friday.
Surprised Hillsborough County Animal Services agents were waiting for a search warrant. Once they got it, they entered 8202 W Crenshaw St. and found that the home was covered in animal waste, with three cats and 16 starving dogs. The animals had been abandoned for an unknown number of days, Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan said.
The power was turned off in the house, and fur, bones and other remains of one dog were found in a crate.
The pets' owner, Cynthia Cuervo, 42, was not found Friday. She faces 20 felony counts of animal cruelty and 20 misdemeanor counts of improper confinement, Ryan said. The home is owned by her parents, Eduardo and Evelyn Cuervo, Ryan said.
Most of the animals were malnourished and appeared to be ravaged by parasites, Ryan said. Most seemed social, but veterinarians and Animal Services will later determine whether the pets are adoptable.
"Overall, for as rough as they looked and smelled and appeared," Ryan said, "their attitude is pretty good."
Jail records show that Cuervo was arrested in May on a felony animal cruelty charge. In that case, six dogs were found emaciated in a shed without food or water. Ryan said the charge was dropped after a judge felt that Cuervo would be better served with psychological treatment.
"The charges were dismissed in an effort to educate her and give her a chance," Ryan said. "When you are classified as a hoarder, it's considered a psychological behavior. Obviously, this person has failed her second chance."
Cuervo was evicted in November from an apartment for failing to take care of her pets, Ryan said. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Animal Services at (813) 744-5660.