INVERNESS, Fla. (WFLA) — It was a savage secret being kept in a quiet Inverness neighborhood. No one knew what was going on in the well-kept home that sat at the corner of a busy intersection. No one ever knew that a nearby detached garage, just feet from the home, was filled with animal cruelty and suffering.
The dogs sat huddled together, day after day. Their fur thick, itchy and matted, filled with fleas and feces. For many of the small, gentle creatures, the pain was brutal – open sores and one of them is unable to walk anymore. In some cases, they couldn’t even see. The filthy fur had grown over their eyes.
Those who carry out rescue missions on a daily basis describe it as, “one of the worst cases of animal abuse they had ever seen.”
People walked by day after day and never knew the garage that seemed so normal was holding dozens of suffering pups inside.
Many of the small dogs were Pomeranians. Others were said to be Shih Tzu mixes. There were 36 dogs rescued, just in the nick of time, on Father’s Day.
The Citrus Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip that kicked off a massive investigation, one that “saved lives,” according to investigators.
This rescue mission has been the talk of Citrus County. So many people are relieved these dogs are now safe and recovering.
When investigators first entered the home, the looks on the animals’ faces said it all. They were living in fear every single day – lonely, hungry and desperate to be loved.
“It was horrible, horrible conditions. The dogs, just makes your heart hurt to see the level of neglect they endured,” said Animal Control Officer Lora Peckham.
For Peckham, Sunday was a moment of both heartache and hope. She was thankful that someone out there did the right thing and tipped off the sheriff’s office.
“You could just see the relief, you could see they were thankful. They were appreciative that we were making them more comfortable, cleaning them, getting the fleas off,” she said.
How did all these dogs end up locked away in a concrete garage? Citrus investigators are trying to figure that out.
Ryan McLean and Deana Feldman are in custody. According to the sheriff’s office, they were both arrested for one count of felony animal cruelty and 27 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty with a bond of $32,000 each.
Neighbors like Donna Frankart couldn’t believe it.
“Just shocked, I never heard anything. We walk the dogs, never heard dogs barking,” she said.
Frankart admits that her heart is broken, never knowing that each night when she walked her dogs past the home, so many little ones were suffering inside.
Now, those sweet pups are safe and recovering, thanks to the heroes from the sheriff’s office, Fire Rescue and the veterinarians and vet technicians who came in on a Sunday at Countryside Animal Clinic to save lives. They worked for hours to care for these cuties who have needed love and compassion for months.
The dogs have a long way to go recovery-wise, and they are in loving hands to do just that. In addition, the sheriff’s office has 10 days to file a petition for custody.
When the dogs are healthy enough, they’ll be available for adoption.
It’s a safe guess that their tails are most likely wagging just thinking about it.
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