TAMPA, FL — Over a two-day period, they trickled into the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center on Falkenburg Road with runny eyes and noses, fur matted with urine and feces, missing eyes and teeth, flea-bitten skin and mite-infested ears.
Even the most veteran animal technicians at the shelter were taken aback by the “deplorable” condition of the 352 mostly small-breed dogs that were seized from a breeding business in Old Seminole Heights last week.
Considering the overcrowded, unsanitary conditions the dogs lived in, Pet Resource Center Director Scott Trebatoski said he’s surprised rescuers found only one dog dead inside Trish’s All Breed Grooming, which also operates under the name of Toyland Pet Resort, at 2507 E. Diana St.
Another dog had so many broken bones it had to be euthanized. Four more were in critical condition.
But the survivors are already improving in the week since they were seized by the county after a court order.
“They’re actually adjusting quicker than we thought,” Trebatoski said. “Coming from those tight quarters into big cages, initially I don’t think they knew how to react. Now they’re pretty much making full use of the whole space.”
To better handle the overwhelming number of new dogs, Trebatoski said the shelter has divided them into three groups.
One group consists of about 22 dogs that need more intensive veterinary care due to serious illnesses. Another group is made up of pregnant and nursing dogs and their newborn puppies. And the third group are dogs suffering from neglect and in need of attention and socialization.
The dogs include mostly toy breeds including poodles, Maltese, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire terriers and schnauzers.
The county said last week’s operation is the largest animal seizure in the county’s history.
The county took custody of the dogs after a yearlong legal battle that ended when the 13th Judicial Circuit Court ruled against the business owner of record, Robert Royers of 102 Camp George Road, Crescent City.
Not only was Royers ordered to surrender all of the dogs at the Old Seminole Heights business but he is banned from owning dogs and participating in any dog-breeding activities.
Trebatoski said the Toyland Pet Resort was little more than a puppy mill where a lack of staff and overcrowded conditions made it impossible for the dogs to receive proper dietary, sanitary and veterinary care. Cages that were made to hold two dogs instead held 10 to 15 dogs.
“I’ve seen dental disease, skin issues, eye infections …,” Pet Resource Center chief veterinarian Dr. Mallory Offner said.
In most cases, there was no attempt to socialize the dogs. They were simply used repeatedly for breeding.
While this is an extreme case, the Humane Society said high-volume dog-breeding facilities geared to churning out puppies for profit are all too common. The puppies, often sick or suffering from genetic problems due to over breeding, are sold through the Internet, flea markets and to pet stores.
“Mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages with little to no personal attention. When the mother and father dogs can no longer breed, they are abandoned or killed,” the society said. “Due to poor sanitation and a lack of preventive veterinary care, the puppies from puppy mills frequently suffer from a variety of health issues, creating heartbreaking challenges for families who should be enjoying the delights of adopting a new family member.”
The Humane Society estimates there are about 100,000 puppy mills operating in the United States. Two million puppies from puppy mills are sold each year.
The Old Seminole Heights business long has been on the radar of local animal advocates who had complained to the county of the inhumane treatment of dogs at the facility for years.
This is the fourth time the county has investigated and seized dogs from Toyland Pet Resort.
The county previously took custody of dogs at the facility in 1998, 1999 and 2011. At that time, the owner of record was Alice Holt.
In 2011, she was found guilty of 102 counts of animal abuse and 88 counts of improper confinement.
She was also banned from owning dogs but was able to take advantage of a loophole in the court order. The business was put in Royers’ name. Holt, now 83 years old, still owns the property and manages the business, although she doesn’t technically own the dogs.
Trebatoski said his staff is gathering evidence to forward to the State Attorney’s Office to determine if criminal charges will be filed against Royers and Holt.
Even while Holt watched the county take away the dogs, Trebatoski said he isn’t sure the elderly woman understood what was happening. He said she asked the investigator when she could start breeding dogs again.
Although the condition of the dogs taken in last week is heartbreaking, Trebatoski said the staff at the Pet Resource Center has been heartened by the support from the community.
There’s also been an outpouring of donations to the animal shelter, Trebatoski said. On Thursday, an Amazon delivery truck showed up at the shelter filled with 92 boxes of donations from as far away as Las Vegas and California. More deliveries were made over the weekend after the center posted an Amazon Wish List on its website.
He said the dogs are already perking up after receiving veterinary care, regular meals and fresh water.
“They’ve been kind of having the time of their life with finding out what a bed is, finding out what good food is and toys and water and everything, and they are starting to settle in,” Trebatoski said. “It’s really heartwarming that these dogs will now go from probably their worst scenario to being spoiled to death.”
The center has also been inundated with calls from residents asking to adopt the dogs.
Because Royers has 30 days to appeal the court decision, the dogs can’t be put up for adoption or even pre-adoption. Trebatoski said the legal process could take two months or more.
To help clear the shelter and make room for the new guests, the Pet Resource Center has waived all fees on ready-to-go cats and dogs at the shelter.
These pets are not part of the county seizure. All pets adopted from the center are vaccinated, registered, microchipped, and spayed or neutered before leaving the shelter. Dogs and cats available for adoption are also viewable online.
See related story: Animal Shelter Grapples With County’s Largest Dog Seizure
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