SEBRING - A woman found last year to be housing 45 animals suffering from malnutrition and dehydration in a house filled with urine and feces from dogs and cats has been placed on probation for 10 years.
County Judge Anthony Ritenour adjudicated Michelle A. Brown, 59, guilty after she plead guilty to 10 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals late last month.
Brown, who will also be required to pay fines and restitution, will be barred from owning animals during the time she is on probation.
Assistant State Attorney Gary Ellis said that in agreeing to such a sentence he wanted to make sure that Brown wouldn't injure any other animals, she paid restitution and that she would get any mental health treatment she needed.
"It was a horrid situation," Ellis said. It couldn't have been a healthy situation for her to live, he added.
"For a person to live in the situation, you've got to wonder if there's not something that needs to be addressed from a mental health point of view," he said.
The plea agreement requires for her to get a mental evaluation, he said.
As for the fines and court costs, Brown will have to pay in fines $350 on five counts and $393.75 in fines and court costs on the other five counts. On the first five counts she will have to pay $241.75 in court costs.
In addition, Brown will have to pay a $150 fee to cover the costs of prosecution.
Judy Spiegel, president of the Highlands County Humane Society, said she knew Brown, who was a former volunteer. She said she doesn't believe Brown intended to neglect the animals and that she felt they were better with her than facing being euthanized.
"People start out with good intentions, but things get away from them and it turns out to be a sad situation for them and the animals," Spiegel said.
Spiegel said the Humane Society has people who provide foster or temporary care for animals, but they must bring the animals on a regular basis to get vaccinations.
When they bring the animals for those vaccinations, Humane Society staff can see if the animals are being mistreated, she said.
Authorities became aware of the situation involving Brown after getting complaints from neighbors who smelled stench from the house.
Brown was living in her mother's home at the time, but had an address in Oviedo. Authorities searched Brown's house in Oviedo, but did not bring any charges.