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'Authorities Seize Over 400 Sick Animals From Florida Home'

(OCALA) Saturday, August 29, 2009 - Authorities removed 432 animals from a Citra home Thursday and Friday, to the delight of neighbors who say the menagerie was noisy and unsightly.

Almost 200 animals were living cramped inside the home, including more than 150 birds, 37 dogs and two cats. The rest, including 23 goats and sheep, 74 geese, 15 turkeys, some exotic birds, snakes and gopher tortoises, were scattered around the fenced, half-acre lot in a rural area of Citra, officials said.

Dawn Stephen, an animal compliance official for Marion County, said authorities became aware of the problem when paramedics were called to the residence to treat the female homeowner for a medical condition. They ended up taking the woman, identified as Ileana Verguizas, to the hospital. The exact nature of Verguizas's medical problem was not immediately clear.

The paramedics then alerted county officials about the animals.

Stephen said animal control officers spent most of Thursday and Friday rounding up the animals and transporting them to the Marion County Animal Center, where their health was being evaluated and they were receiving baths.

Although many of the animals were unclean, Stephen said most of them didn't show any obvious signs of abuse or malnutrition.

"They were not in horrible shape," Stephen said. "There's a lot of battling for food going on because there's just too many of them. But other than that, they're not that bad."

Still, county officials expect to charge Verguizas and Andrew Gonzalo Perez with animal cruelty, according to a press release from the Marion County administration.

What surprised investigators, beyond the sheer number of animals at the home, was the variety. In most cases of animal hoarding, the owners collect a certain type of animal - dogs, cats or pigs, for example.

"Obviously, everybody hears stories about the crazy cat lady," she said, "but in this case she had so many different kinds of animals. That's unusual."

Stephen said she had not had an opportunity Friday to check county records for complaints about the property, but she said the problem was apparently well-known to neighbors.

"I can tell you that quite a few neighbors drove by and said it's about time someone did something," she said. "We said, 'Why didn't you call?' They didn't have an answer for that."

Angela Mickle, who lives more than a half mile from the home, said all the neighbors knew about it but didn't know whether Verguizas was running a puppy mill or perhaps an animal rescue operation.

"Every time we would drive by it, the front yard was torn up and there were geese all over the place," Mickle said.

She said in this rural stretch of Citra, it isn't uncommon for residents to own a number of animals, although not as many as this person kept. While everyone in the area was curious about the woman's growing inventory of animals, most people weren't overly concerned about the animals themselves.

"None of us thought anything about it. It didn't look like they were abused," Mickel said.


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Added: Aug-30-2009 Occurred On: Aug-28-2009
By: Smitten_Kitten
In:
News
Tags: ocala, florida, authorities, seize, animals, sick, animal abuse, home, citra, smitten_kitten
Location: Citra, Florida, United States (load item map)
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