TAMPA — She's been called a cruel hoarder, unfit to care for the animals she was supposed to be saving. Others figured she meant well, but got overwhelmed.
Ten months after animal control officials swarmed Veronica Faulseit's St. Petersburg bungalow and seized several dozen animals, she is fighting to restore her reputation and revive her nonprofit animal rescue operation.
The case made headlines last spring and landed Faulseit in jail on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.
"It's devastated me," Faulseit, 49, said this week in her first interview since her arrest. "I've lost a lot of friends over this, and haven't been able to tell my side of the story."
Faulseit, who now lives in Tampa, insists the animals seized last year were already in bad shape when her operation, All Creatures Great and Small Inc., took them in and that they were being well-cared for. She declined to comment on specific details because the case is still pending, but she said evidence will show the ordeal was a misunderstanding. She's hoping for "complete vindication."
"I would never do anything to hurt an animal," she said.
On March 24, 2015, animal control officials descended on Faulseit's home on 13th Avenue N after a police officer said cats, dogs, raccoons, an opossum and several birds were living in their own feces without food or water in a carport. Officials seized 60 animals and arrested Faulseit and Patricia Scites, a board member for All Creatures, charging both with animal cruelty.
Faulseit had rescued many of the animals from Hillsborough County's shelter and was putting animals up for adoption at a local pet store. She also accepted solicited donations from animal lovers desperate to save shelter animals set to be euthanized.
Dr. Robbie Asher, a veterinarian for Pinellas County Animal Services, found that the animals were severely dehydrated and emaciated and did not have proper access to food and water. Some were stacked in cages too small for them.
"It is my opinion that these animals were not provided the necessary humane care to assure a good quality of life," Asher wrote in a court affidavit.
Pinellas County Judge Edwin Jagger turned over custody of the animals to the city of St. Petersburg and ordered All Creatures to pay $12,439 for the cost of care. Faulseit personally was ordered to pay $2,560.
Jagger also signed an injunction forbidding Faulseit from possessing or keeping live animals. To get that overturned, Faulseit would have to show that she can "properly assume care of animals," according to the order.
Faulseit's attorney, Marc Joseph of Tampa, noted that an animal control officer who visited in February found the animals on the carport well-fed and in clean cages. He said Faulseit and her workers were running late that day and were on their way to give the animals fresh food and water and clean their cages.
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"This incident they're trying to accuse her of is like one little snapshot in time and does not lead to the conclusion that she is some type of animal neglecter or abuser," he said.
Joseph plans to seek a stay of Jagger's order pending the outcome of the appeal. Faulseit's criminal case is set is set for a status check in April.
Faulseit said she didn't profit from the operation. She declined to comment on how she makes a living but said she is still helping with wildlife rescues, transferring the animals to other rescuers. But she wants to get back to a calling rooted in her childhood in upstate New York, where her family owned horses and rabbits and rescued wildlife and exotic animals.
"I don't think there's any greater feeling than taking an animal with medical needs from a euthanasia list, rehabilitating it and finding it a forever home," she said.
As for the animals, three dogs and a cat that were in extremely bad health had to be euthanized, said Doug Brightwell, interim director for Pinellas County Animals Services. About two dozen dogs and cats were returned to Hillsborough County Animals Services or rescue groups. The Pinellas shelter sent four dogs to local rescue groups and found homes for seven cats and three dogs.
The birds and bunny went to other rescuers and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission took the wildlife.
"We were very pleased with the outcome of this case for the animals," Brightwell said.
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.