HUDSON - Pasco County officials are seeking to remove nearly 100 cats and dogs from a rat-infested, feces-fouled mobile home on Kitten Trail in a case being described as the worst investigators have seen.
The county filed a petition Wednesday in circuit court for custody of an estimated 80 cats and 13 dogs, claiming the owners, Eric Scott Steffey, 46. and Susan M. Steffey, 49, are unfit and unable to provide a healthy environment for the animals. The petition describes filthy conditions where pets were crammed in cages, fed from a dirt floor and deprived of clean water. Rats the size of Nerf footballs roamed freely. Feces and garbage were caked on surfaces, and cobwebs stretched from ceiling to floor.
"It's very difficult to imagine somebody lays down in there at night and goes to sleep," Pasco County Animal Control Manager Denise Hilton said. "It's the stuff nightmares are made of."
The county is seeking to remove the pets from 12517 Kitten Trail and prevent the Steffeys from taking in any other animals. A hearing is scheduled for March 1, Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden said.
The Steffeys surrendered seven of the dogs while animal control officers were investigating a complaint Jan. 24, Hilton said. The dogs were euthanized because of the severity of their condition. Six needed emergency care, but the owners said they had no money or vehicle to transport the animals for treatment. They gave up the seventh dog voluntarily, saying he was aggressive.
Hilton said the dogs and cats were infested with fleas and had "all kinds of parasites and medical problems." The dogs that were euthanized had oozing wounds and infections. Some were bald, and others had hanging tumors. All tested positive for heartworm. A handful were spayed or neutered, and most were inbred and aggressive. One was pregnant.
"They were not socialized. They could not be handled or walked down the street like a pet," Hilton said.
It was more difficult to estimate the number of cats because they were "crammed in cages" when officers arrived. Susan Steffey later opened the cages and released some of the cats. Others escaped through holes in the floors and windows, Hilton said.
Hilton said the sheriff's office was investigating the condition of several horses, a donkey and a mule on the property, but Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Doug Tobin could not immediately provide information.
The animal control officers were visibly depressed by the case, Hilton said.
"They were just very, very saddened that there were people living in these conditions," she said. "The property gives the appearance inside and outside that it has been abandoned for a number of years - if you can envision a house and dressing it up to look intentionally spooky."
County officials are trying to get help for the Steffeys, who they said are in dire need. At the time county officials investigated, Eric Steffey had moved out of the house to a box truck on the property, according to the complaint. The mobile home had no running water, and the couple were using a hose in their barn to shower. They prepared food in a microwave in the barn.
"This is sadly similar to many other [animal] hoarding cases, but it's just the overwhelming filth of the trailer," Hilton said. "They have lost perspective that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and the animals."
Video and photographs taken inside the house show trashed piled high, feces all over the floor and large rats scurrying about, Wooden said. There were holes in the floor big enough for a 60-pound dog to jump through, and the only piece of usable furniture was a bed, investigators said.
"It's truly horrifying," Wooden said. "I've never seen a house like this. There is nowhere you could step in the house without stepping on fecal matter. It's just an environment that no animal, much less a person, should be living in."