FORT PIERCE, Fla. -- A former owner-operator of the Sanctuary Animal Refuge west of Fort Pierce was arrested Thursday and charged with 157 counts of animal cruelty.
Palena Rae Dorsey was initially booked into the St. Lucie County Jail in February on first-degree grand theft charges. She is accused of using $262,000 from a trust intended for the care of the animals at the shelter to buy a home, two vehicles, electronics and several items from the Home Shopping Club and QVC, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office.
An additional 103 third-degree felony and 54 misdemeanor animal cruelty charges were added Thursday morning.
On April 18, 2011, deputies responded to the Sanctuary Animal Shelter after being notified of possible animal abuse by animal control.
"There was no caregiver at the facility, and the animals were living in a feces and urine infested facility that was in deplorable shape," said Sheriff Ken J. Mascara said in a release.
Mascara said no large food supplies or common medicine was found on the property to care for a large group of animals.
Mascara said walls within the facility were covered in mildew and holes, electrical outlets were exposed and dog urine and feces were spread throughout the building.
"Animals were found to be malnourished, had little to no vet care and were infected with numerous diseases including heart worms, hair loss, open and unhealed sores, dehydration, mange, diarrhea, flea infestation, bad teeth, root exposure and extreme weight loss," Mascara said in a release.
According to the sheriff's office, 16 dogs were unable to recover their condition and had to be euthanized.
"This lady, not only what she perpetrated here with these animals, but also stealing the funds that was necessary to care for these animals, I think of her as a very evil person," said Mascara.
Each of Dorsey's 103 felony charges is punishable by five years in state prison. If convicted on these charges alone, that would add up to a maximum of more than 500 years in prison.
One of the dogs rescued from the shelter was named Lion King. He had parasites, tested positive for heart worms, and needed to be treated for fleas.
"He always had a good tail wag, even though he looked like death, but I just felt like there was a good soul in there just waiting to come out," explained Dr. Sara Mathews.
With her husband, Dan Clifton, Mathews owns Dr. Dan's Animal Hospital in Vero Beach. The family adopted Lion King and gave him the extensive care needed to make him healthier. In the last year, the dog has gained 20 pounds. The only sign of his past is now the scarring on the edge of his ears.
"But thankfully, he is recovered 100% and pretty low maintenance," said Mathews.
Maxim Alter of wptv.com contributed to this report