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Animals found in horrid conditions
Officials rescue nearly 90 cats and dogs from Kings Road hoarding
animals found in horrid conditions
Among the 38 dogs recovered from the house on Kings Road was this brand new momma and her 2-week-old puppies. Momma dog and the pups are currently in foster care and doing much better. Photo provided

While most of the community was enjoying backyard BBQs, a day off from work and fireworks for the Fourth of July weekend, the crew from Liberty County Animal Services was at a mobile home on Kings Road in Colonel’s Island, rescuing roughly 88 animals from a hoarding situation.

Liberty County Animal Services Director Steve Marrero said his office received a call from a third party on July 3 about an animal hoarding situation. The call was followed by a video showing what the house looked like inside. He said he activated his team and got assistance from the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office and other agencies, then called the owner of the house to get permission to go inside.

The owner was renting the home to Tina Waters, a woman with whom animal rescue organizations say they’re familiar with and who has been reported for a similar situation in the past.

Carpathia Paws Vice President Maryann Smith said she called the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office in May 2021, when she said the number of dogs at the home was around 20.

“They said they had to have a warrant and they were working on it,” Smith said. “I followed up several times and gave up. Now, a year later, quadruple the number of animals.

“She moved after the trailer became unlivable and had approximately 10 dogs with her at the new trailer.”

Smith questioned why the sheriff ’s department had not responded to the situation. She said Waters’ niece was the one who found the dogs in the horrible conditions and made several calls to police, to no avail.

“It shouldn’t require me to call and basically raise hell to get a deputy out there,” Smith said. “I cannot understand why she has not been charged.”

The Courier reached out to the Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office by email on Wednesday, July 6, to ask if the dogs moved to the other trailer had been recovered and if there were any updates they could provide regarding Waters.

The following day, Lt. Phillip Bohannon, LCSO Public Information Officer, issued the following statement: “The Liberty County Sheriff ’s Office was made aware of complaint involving animals on Kings Road on July 3rd, 2022. Following a report, we contacted Liberty County Animal Services to make them aware of the complaint. Liberty County Animal Services arrived on the scene and removed approximately 30 dogs from that location. There were no deceased animals found inside the home, nor has any animal been euthanized at this time. This case is being investigated by Liberty County Animal Control.”

“It was horrible,” Marrero said of the conditions they found inside.

He said the home was covered in urine and feces, and the dogs had never been outside, never stepped on grass. Marrero said they recovered roughly 38 dogs, one a mother with a bunch of puppies, before working to recover roughly 50 outside cats.

“It was a hoarder situation, and it was filthy and disgusting,” he said.

Marrero said that while some of the dogs were malnourished, none were at serious health risk, and it did appear they were being provided food and water.

He said it is possible that Waters is dealing with a mental health issue but was not intentionally starving or harming the dogs.

“You could tell the two things she did was give them food and water,” he said.

He said the dogs were pretty social.

Animal Services later recovered the additional 10 dogs Waters had moved when she left the home on Kings Road. It is unclear whether any charges will be brought in the case.

Marrero said Waters’ son just wants his mother to get the help she needs.

Smith said she is working to assess the cats they are still attempting to recover outside the home on Kings Road. Marrero said the dogs were checked, and K-9 Battle Buddies took in the mother and her pups. Fixing the Boro also took 10 dogs.

Marrero gave credit to his staff, who dropped what they were doing that holiday weekend and came to the rescue of the dogs.

Animal Services making changes

Liberty County Animal Services has gone through significant changes in the past two years under current Director Steve Marrero. One of the more notable changes was going from calling themselves Animal Control to Animal Services.

Marrero said Animal Services was evaluated by Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, providing him with a comprehensive list of areas that need improvements. Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program aims to provide veterinary students and practitioners with specialized knowledge and skills to enhance the medical and behavioral health of sheltered animals, to increase shelter lifesaving, and to promote public health.

Marrero said they’ve partnered with Best Friends Network, PetSmart Charities, Petco and, more recently, with Human Animal Support Services (HASS). He said the partnership with Petco is a hard one to get and has provided Animal Services with access to free vaccinations for the community.

“As long as Petco can provide them, the citizens no longer have to pay for distemper, parvo or feline vaccines,” he said. “Petco (is) providing them for free.”

At a recent free vaccine clinic with free microchipping services, held prior to the Fourth of July, Marrero said they ran out of microchips.

“My goal is to provide a service to the community, for the people that cannot afford to go to the vet clinics,” he said.

Another improvement is that sick or injured animals are now taken to Fleming Veterinarian Clinic for treatment before being housed at the shelter. Marrero said citizens who come across a lost or injured animal can take it directly to the clinic to be assessed, and the staff at the clinic will communicate with Animal Services.

All Animal Services employees have undergone fear-free facility training, which aims to help animals bond and build trust with humans. Marrero said they’ve also started a foster-to-adopt program, which has gained a lot of attention.

“So, if a particular animal doesn’t work out at their house, that is fine,” he said. “They can bring it back.”

Marrero said Animal Services provides all resources while the pet is being fostered, including food and vet visits.

“If it works out, then that is great, because it turns into an adoption,” he said.

Marrero said Liberty Animal Services has been recognized by other communities and is serving as a working model other organizations are seeking to replicate.

Maryann Smith, Vice President of Carpathia Paws Animal Rescue, has previously voiced opposition to Animal Control and its high kill rate. But since Marrero has come on board as LCAS director, she said she has seen remarkable changes.

“It is so heartening to work with people who seek ways to cooperate and save an animal rather than adhering to a hold time with little consideration of other options,” she said.

Smith cited several areas of what she calls Marrero’s innovative leadership:

 a. Foster and foster-to-adopt program

 b. Adoption

 c. Community pet food bank for citizens having financial difficulties

 d. Agreement with a local vet to treat emergency injuries and illnesses of stray animals picked up by LCAS rather than putting the animal down because of its condition

 e. Manipulation of available kennels to provide maximum capacity and avoid euthanization 

f. Cooperation and interaction with rescues outside the immediate vicinity, including rescues in South Carolina and Florida, to find placements for Liberty County dogs and cats

 g. Periodic clinics to provide free vaccinations and microchips to county residents

 h. Free TNR (trap, neuter, release) program funded by a grant from PetFix Savannah to assist citizens in reducing the population of community cats

 i. Near zero euthanizing rate, a remarkable achievement in view of the high volume of abandoned dogs and cats in Liberty County

 j. Successful application for grants to fund many Animal Services programs

 “Bottom line is Liberty County’s Animal Services is leading the area in innovative practices to reduce or eliminate the euthanizing of dogs and cats that society has abandoned,” she said. “We are so fortunate to have a competent and caring leader whose first and foremost goal is to save the lives of helpless animals.”

Marrero said he wants Liberty County to be the hub for animal welfare in the region. His goal is to create a low-cost spay and neuter clinic and to continue to grow partnerships with the various animal welfare groups. He added he couldn’t do what he does without great employees.

“We have an amazing staff,” he said. “We have the true dream team.”

“I am very proud of the strides made by our team at Animal Services,” said County Administrator Joey Brown. “The ability to find quality homes for our little friends has changed lives and set an example for others to follow.”

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