A day after their owners were deemed unfit to care for them, more than 200 animals were removed from the nonprofit Our Animal Haus shelter Friday by Hernando County Animal Services officers.
Animal control officers and volunteers from the Hernando Emergency Animal Response Team arrived at the 12-acre ranch on Lanark Road around 8:30 a.m. with trucks and trailers to cart off nearly 100 cats, 40 dogs, 50 birds, four horses and a donkey, plus an assortment of domestic and exotic pets belonging to Carol Mas and her husband, Estebahn Agustinho.
Animal Services supervisor Patrick Pace said many of the animals appeared weak from lack of food, shelter and proper veterinary care. Particularly affected, he said, were the nearly 100 cats found on the property.
Pace said he bent down to pick up a gray long-haired cat that, judging by its size, should have weighed 12 to 14 pounds. It probably weighed half that.
"Nothing but skin and bones," Pace said. "It's very sad."
At a fitness hearing Thursday, County Judge Kurt Hitzemann listened as Pace and Animal Services director Liana Teague told of their monthlong investigation of the sanctuary.
Over nine separate visits, officers noted instances of severe animal neglect, including malnourished animals, filthy cages, and diseased and injured animals that were not being treated by a veterinarian.
According to Teague, all of the animals recovered will be examined and evaluated for possible adoption. Those not deemed adoptable will be euthanized.
"It's a difficult situation because so many of the cats had communicable diseases and weren't quarantined," Teague said. "It's going to take a while to sort everything out."
Teague said her agency will work with the Humane Society of the Nature Coast to help find homes for as many animals as possible. Animal Services will hold a special public "viewing day" sometime next week for animals up for adoption.
In addition, any remaining livestock will be auctioned off in an effort to recoup some of the $5,700 in expenses the county has incurred so far in its investigation.
Under Hitzemann's ruling, Mas and Agustinho are forbidden to acquire any more animals for three years.
However, the couple were allowed to keep five personal pets of their choosing.
No criminal charges have been filed.
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.