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Deputies rescue 43 dogs from ‘deplorable’ Citrus animal rescue center

Some dogs were forced to live in a bathroom with no windows and no light, according to the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, and urine covered the floor.
Robert Schweickert Jr., 56, operator of Out of the Box Animal Rescue in Floral City, was arrested on 25 counts of cruelty to animals by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.
Robert Schweickert Jr., 56, operator of Out of the Box Animal Rescue in Floral City, was arrested on 25 counts of cruelty to animals by the Citrus County Sheriff's Office. [ Citrus County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Jan. 16
Updated Jan. 16

The animals in this animal rescue center needed rescuing, say Citrus County deputies.

They rescued 43 dogs, three hens and one pig from a Floral City animal rescue center where the animals were being kept in “deplorable conditions,” said Citrus Sheriff Mike Prendergast in a statement.

That led to Wednesday’s arrest of the operator of Box Animal Rescue, 56-year-old Robert Schweickert, on 25 counts of cruelty to animals, according to the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office. He is accused of keeping the animals in inadequate kennel sizes and “inhumane” housing at the animal rescue center at 7007 S Florida Ave. More charges could be filed.

There were two other volunteers there when the arrest took place, but the Sheriff’s Office did not say whether they were also arrested.

“Under the guise of a rescue, these precious animals suffered in deplorable conditions because of one man’s refusal to provide the basic, minimum requirements of care,” Prendergast said.

The living conditions of animals were brought to deputies’ attention after complaints from the public. The Sheriff’s Office said Schweickert showed up late to a court-ordered inspection on Tuesday. While waiting for him to arrive, however, animal control officers were able to observe from outside the fence “several violations.”

Schweickert arrived at the animal rescue later that day but defused to let deputies inside to inspect, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Using those violations, deputies said they obtained an arrest warrant for Schweickert. They arrested him Wednesday and inspected the property.

Deputies said one dog was forced to live in a walk-in freezer with no windows or ventilation. Others were forced to live in a bathroom with no light or window, and “urine covered floors.”

“The unit was similar to the box of a moving van — completely metal, no windows, no electricity, and no ventilation,” the Sheriff’s Office said of the walk-in freezer. “The door to the unit was closed and locked with the poor animal inside.”

Deputies say dogs were left in kennels outside with no cover. Other dogs were in kennels that were wrapped entirely by a tarp, “drastically restricting the airflow to the animal.”

The air quality in the building was so bad a firefighter had to wear a breathing apparatus because of the amount of ammonia present, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

All of the animals at the rescue were taken to the Citrus County Animal Shelter. Several dogs were in need of medical care and were infested with fleas.

Schweickert was booked into the Citrus County jail, where he was being held Friday in lieu of $12,500 bail.