A Greenacres woman, Janna Howard, was arrested recently and charged with 45 counts of animal cruelty after authorities found 50 cats living in her home among trash heaps while Howard lived on her patio. Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control is calling it the worst case of animal hoarding ever in Palm Beach County. The doors, windows, and vents of Howard's home were allegedly boarded with duct tape so that neighbors would not smell the cat urine and garbage smells coming from the home. Officers who entered the home to take the cats into custody were forced to wear industrial strength respirators after the Fire Marshall deamed the residence unsafe for anyone to enter.
Having a large number of animals in one's home isn't a crime in Florida. The mere fact that Howard had 50 cats isn't criminal. But animal neglect is criminal. Not providing those animals with adequate food, water, and medical treatment is a crime. Depending on the severity of the animals' medical states, it could even be a felony.
But many experts find animal hoarding to be different than other forms of animal cruelty or neglect in that it typically isn't intentional. In fact, many hoarders think that they are animal rescuers, saving these animals from shelters or life on the street. They simply do not recognize that their treatment of the animals is inadequate, let alone criminal.
One of the problems faced by Animal Care and Control in hoarding cases is that they typically must wait until animals are living in deplorable conditions before they can do anything about the situation. Unlike a situation where it is suspected that children are being neglected, there is little mechanism in place to ensure that animals are not being mistreated. Authorities must wait for a crime to be committed, for the animals to be living in absolute squalor, before they can do anything to stop the situaiton.
In Florida, there is at least an enforcement mechanism for a person to have their animals removed from there home if the animals are being severely neglected. The person is entitled to a hearing in front of a civil county court judge before their animals can be put into the custody of Animal Care and Control.