SEBRING - People involved with caring for the welfare of animals locally knew that a Sebring woman now accused of animal neglect cared for multiple dogs and cats at her home, they said this week.
"We all knew she had a few dogs and cats," said Barry Edgley, who was involved in protests last year regarding the treatment of animals at Highlands County Animal Control.
Edgley said people offered Michelle A. Brown, 59, help in caring for those animals, but "she never seemed to need any help."
Particularly in view of that, Edgley said, he and others were shocked when Brown was charged with 47 counts of felony animal neglect involved 27 cats and 18 dogs. Two of the dogs had to be euthanized because of their poor health.
"Nobody saw this coming," said Edgley, who added that Brown spent one Christmas with his family and that she seemed to be genuinely devoted to the cause of proper treatment of animals. He said Brown wasn't a core member of the group that protested condition of animals at Highlands Animal Control, but she was present during at least one protest.
She was someone who wanted to add her voice, he said.
Darryl Scott, the manager of Highlands County Animal Control, said he found it ironic that apparently Brown protested conditions at the facility in view of what occurred at her house.
That Brown declined to receive help fits the definition of someone who hoards animals, according to the website of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals.
The site notes that the Animal Research Consortium found three criteria that indicate animal hoarding:
(bullet) "More than the typical number of companion animals."
(bullet) "Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care with the neglect often resulting in starvation, illness and death."
(bullet) "Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household and the human occupants of the dwelling.
The ASPCA site notes that hoarders can be just about anyone, from young to old and men or women.
"One commonality between all hoarders is a failure to grasp the severity of their situation," the site adds.
Just owning multiple animals doesn't make a person a hoarder, the ASPCA notes, adding that a crucial difference is that a non-hoarder who has problems being able to care for the animals recognizes the problem and seeks help.
The ASPCA notes that 900 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding occur every year in the United States.
In some cases, the web site noted, hoarders pretend to have animal rescue organizations.
While that wasn't the case with Brown, "she hid what she was doing pretty well," Edgley said.
Judy Spiegel, president of the Highlands County Humane Society, said she knew Brown for more than a year and was shocked to hear about the condition of the animals.
She said Brown expressed an interest in being part of efforts to rescue animals.
"I find it hard to believe she would intentionally hurt any animals," Spiegel said.
Spiegel said she hopes that homes can be found for the animals as quickly as possible.
However, when that will be remains questionable as the animals are considered evidence by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office. People can call the Highlands County Animal Control at (863) 655-6475 or the Highlands County Humanity Society at (863) 655-1522 and express an interest in adopting a dog or a cat.