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Spring Hill woman faces fallout from removal of 50 animals

By Geoff Fox, Tampa Tribune, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 29--SPRING HILL -- Naoma Britten, who recently had 50 animals removed from her house by Hernando County Animal Services, knows people make comments about her.

She said she has been depressed since June 18, when 21 dogs were removed from her house at 12287 Landfair Street.

The other 29 animals were removed shortly thereafter, including four dogs she considered her own.

Many of the animals were taken by rescues such as the Suncoast Animal League and Ruff Rescue in Brooksville, Britten said. Others were treated and released for adoption by animal services.

In a telephone interview, Britten characterized herself as a kind-hearted animal lover who simply wanted to help dogs and cats, but got overwhelmed.

"I wanted those animals to get the help they needed but when rescues turn their back on me, what was I supposed to do, let them run around in the street?" Britten said.

"People would call and ask if I could help, and I'm the soft egg that said OK. I'm just too kind. I was doing fine when I had help here, but the end of April was the end of that."

Britten said a roommate helped her care for the animals, but the woman owed her money and Britten told her to leave.

She said the ensuing months have been tough, as she also has had health issues.

Then, she said, there were media reports of her filthy house full of suffering animals.

"Of course, people are nasty," she said. "They don't know the situation or why this happened, so I have to take that as it comes."

When a Hernando County sheriff's deputy and an animal services officer arrived at Britten's house June 18, they found 47 dogs and three cats, most of them piled into rusting metal crates strewn with waste.

Investigators reported that many of the animals appeared old and underweight, and that some were blind and had deformed feet. Many of the animals had fleas, bad skin conditions and had lost fur, investigators said.

Britten's home was so littered with her belongings and animal waste that investigators only could walk, one at a time, through a narrow path inside, sheriff's officials said.

Britten told investigators she ran a nonprofit animal rescue out of her home, but had been too sick to care for the animals, the officials said.

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Julie Rosenberger, the county's veterinarian director, said most of the first 21 dogs taken from Britten's home have been treated and released for adoption.

"I don't anticipate them bringing in any more" animals from Britten's house, Rosenberger said. "It's my understanding that all of the animals have been placed with local rescues and foster homes. Even some folks from Clearwater came up to help."

Denise Moloney, public information officer for the sheriff's office, said Britten faces citations for mistreatment of animals -- at a cost of $500 per animal.

"I'm not sure yet how many citations she will receive,' Moloney said, adding that all of the animals were out of Britten's house by June 19.

The animals' departure was a relief to Britten's neighbors.

David Palotas, who lives behind Britten, said continuous barking from her house made it hard for his family to enjoy their backyard pool.

Other neighbors complained that barking kept them up at night and often woke them up early in the morning.

"It's been fabulous" with the dogs gone, Palotas said last week. "It's a happy ending. We can go and sit outside now. It's a lot better than it was."

On Thursday, metal crates were stacked neatly in Britten's yard.

Britten said she was besieged by media in the days after animal services took the dogs, and a note on her front door advised reporters to leave her property immediately.

She said she called the sheriff's office on a television news crew that knocked on her door last week.

A bumper sticker on the sport utility vehicle in her driveway characterized its owner as a "Crazy Dog Lady," but Britten said she simply wanted to do what was best for the animals.

"I have no family, and very few friends," she said. "All of these people who make comments, they need to walk in my shoes. This was not a case of cruelty. It was a case of I got overwhelmed.

"I was involved with Citizens (Insurance) over a possible sinkhole, then my roof had a leak. I had some (health) issues, and I had too much on my plate. People are so happy to point fingers, but they wouldn't step up and help."

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