Dead dogs found inside Florida home abandoned since Hurricane Irma

"I can't believe that somebody would leave three to six dogs in there to just starve to death like that," Kirby said.
Published March 9 2018
Updated March 10 2018

WEEKI WACHEE — Neighbors said they hadn’t seen the woman in the house on Robina Road since Hurricane Irma blew through the area in September.

Then, on Tuesday, a construction worker peered in a window and made a grisly discovery: the carcass of a dog. Inside were at least two more.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office is investigating how dogs were left to die inside a seemingly abandoned house in Weeki Wachee. Authorities have not yet revealed a cause of death, or even said who owned the pets.

"It is unknown how many dogs there were as they were in the advanced stages of decomposition," said Denise Moloney, a Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

Hernando County records show the home, at 11980 Robina Road, is owned by Lauren Wendy Kopp, 35, who has claimed it as her primary residence for a homestead exemption since 2012.

Kopp could not be reached for comment. An attorney representing her, James P. Mancuso, said she is "distraught" and asking for privacy.

He said Kopp allowed someone "down on his luck" to move into the home. An investigator at the firm said Kopp moved in with a boyfriend in September.

"Ms. Kopp is horrified and deeply saddened about this tragedy," Mancuso wrote, "and she hopes that the person or people responsible for this crime are brought to justice. Ms. Kopp was not involved in any way with the death of the dogs, and she is not a suspect in this matter. She has cooperated and will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities in any way she can to assist in their investigation."

He said Kopp has a long history of being an animal lover and would never do anything to cause harm to an animal.

Next-door neighbor Patt Pierce said there has not been a light on in the house since September.

The Sheriff’s Office visited Kopp’s house months earlier, on May 27, after Pierce called expressing concern. The dispatcher noted a caller "STATING DOG IN THIS GARAGE AND NOT SURE IF ANYONE HAS EVER LET IT OUT."

"I could hear them barking," Pierce said Friday. "It gets hot in May. I wanted someone to do a welfare check on the dogs."

An entry the next morning reflected that the agency talked to Kopp, who said her dogs were not abandoned. She said she works late and lets the dogs out at night.

Pierce said she saw her neighbor move out in September but assumed she took the dogs with her.

"If I would have known there were dogs in there I would have busted down the door," she said.

Kopp’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Oliveira, 46, said a detective visited him Friday and showed him photographs of dog remains found at the house.

Both Oliveira and the law firm investigator, Frank Hirst, told the Tampa Bay Times that two dogs were in the home’s laundry room and another was in the living room. But the investigator disputed something else Oliveira said — that he recognized those dogs, pit bulls or pit mixes, as pets he once shared with Kopp.

"Just because I say the sky is purple doesn’t mean it’s true," Hirst said of the claim.

Oliveira said he and Kopp broke up in 2014 after nine years. Sheriff’s records show a sometimes tumultuous relationship.

The couple lived at the home for several years, Oliveira said. He left dogs with Kopp after the breakup, he said.

"I would never think in a million years she would be capable of forgetting these animals," Oliveira said.

The investigator said Kopp had surrendered her dogs to a rescue group before moving, and that she is busy trying to track them down to clear her name.

Another of Kopp’s neighbors, Christopher Kirby, said that, like Pierce, he and his wife didn’t see anyone living in the house after Kopp left.

Kirby said Hernando County Animal Services and the Sheriff’s Office visited the house Tuesday and then returned Wednesday to remove the carcasses.

Contact Jonathan Capriel at (813) 225-3141 or jcapriel@tampabay.com. Follow @jonathancapriel.

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