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Apr 18, 2024

Polk County Sheriff's Office investigating animal neglect hoarder case in Lakeland

Media Contact: Carrie Horstman, Administrator

On Wednesday, April 17, 2024, the Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Cruelty Investigations Unit responded to 4328 Hedge Drive North in Lakeland regarding a complaint related to possibly neglected cats and hoarding. When investigators arrived on-scene they detected a strong odor of ammonia emanating from inside the home, and made contact with the homeowner, 66-year-old Catherine Briley.

Briley confirmed she lives alone inside the home and estimated she had about 16 cats and one dog inside. When detectives entered the residence, wearing respirator masks due to the toxic ammonia levels and their inability to breathe unassisted, they observed between 20-25 cats roaming throughout the residence, several of which were coughing and had green nasal discharge. Polk County Fire Rescue responded to the scene and obtained an ammonia level reading of 10 ppm in the air and a hydride (toxic industrial chemical) level reading of 40 ppm. Both of these readings are considered high.

The cats were unable to leave the home to obtain fresh air. Cat food and water bowls were present throughout the house with food and water available to the animals. There were multiple cat litter boxes that were overflowing with feces and urine. The dog inside the house had trouble walking or standing and had very long, grossly overgrown toenails that were curled. The dog was missing a large amount of fur and appeared to be suffering from a skin condition.

During a search warrant, a total of 27 live cats were located within the residence and seized. The previously mentioned dog was also seized. Five deceased cats were located underneath a bed. All of the animals located were covered in fleas.

Briley was placed under arrest and charged with the following:

28 counts animal cruelty (M1)

5 counts felony animal cruelty (F3)

One count confining animal without sufficient food/water (M1)

One count keeping unpermitted landfill (M1)

One count keeping a nuisance injurious to health (M2)

The animals were taken to Polk County Animal Control for full veterinary exams and treatment.

The following is an excerpt from the suspect's affidavit, and is self-explanatory:

All twenty-seven live cats were not being allowed access to clean, breathable air. This is causing the animals ongoing and repeated respiratory distress, which causes unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering, in violation of F.S. 828.12(1).

The dog, a male poodle mix, was in poor condition and scored a 1/9 on the Purina Body Condition System, indicating the animal is very thin. The dog had large patches of fur missing and had dermatitis from apparent flea infestation. The dog also had eye issues and apparent respiratory conditions. The dog was immediately transported to the PCSO veterinarian for evaluation and treatment. The dog was not being allowed access to clean, breathable air. This is causing the dog ongoing and repeated respiratory distress, which causes unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering, in violation of F.S. 828.12(1).

The five deceased cats were located underneath a bed in a closed bedroom. The bedroom door was shut, and the cats were not allowed out of the room. No food or water was present in this room. It was apparent the five cats had starved to death. The condition of starvation leads to a slow and cruel death. This is in violation of F.S. 828.12(2).

The suspect confined all of the animals inside the residence without an exchange of clean air. Additionally, the suspect confined the five deceased cats in a bedroom without access to food and water which ultimately resulted in their death, in violation of F.S. 828.13.

During the search of the property, I noted the entire front yard, side yard, and back yard were covered in piles of miscellaneous junk and debris. These piles, and throughout the backyard, were covered with household garbage, construction/demolition debris, several bicycles in various stages of disassembly, appliances, furniture, plastics, and metal located throughout the property, resulting in an unpermitted landfill. This property is not a permitted solid waste management facility. This is a violation of F.A.C. 62-701.300 (1)(a), which states, no person shall store, process, or dispose of solid waste except as authorized at a permitted solid waste management facility or a facility exempt from permitting under this chapter and therefore is a violation of F.S. 403.161.

I also noted thousands of swarming flies throughout the property, to include large blowflies, on the piles of garbage and rotting debris. There were also buckets and other containers filled with dirty water that contained larvae. These conditions created, maintained, and caused conditions capable of breeding flies, mosquitoes, and other arthropods capable of transmitting diseases, directly or indirectly to humans in violation of F.S. 386.041(1)(e).

“This is the third case since December where we have found a woman who is hoarding animals to the point where they are being neglected and suffering from illnesses. The home, inside and out, is also what I would call unlivable. This particular suspect is no stranger to the criminal justice system, having been arrested in the past for various crimes. It is our hope these animals will be rehabilitated and able to be adopted out to loving homes, and that this suspect is no longer allowed to own animals.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff