PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - ST. LUCIE COUNTY — County animal control officers on Monday were investigating the health of 120 dogs and cats at the Sanctuary Animal Refuge in western St. Lucie County.
Officials were called to the refuge at 9550 Carlton Road after receiving reports about the animals' welfare, said Karen Taylor, county animal control supervisor.
"Right now we're just trying to take care of the dogs (and cats)," Taylor said.
She said St. Lucie County sheriff's deputies were called to the refuge Saturday about an argument on the site. Deputies called county animal control officials when they saw that animals there had been "neglected," Taylor said.
Jay Apicella, executive director of the Dogs & Cats Forever shelter on Selvitz Road in Fort Pierce, said she was shocked by what was going on at the Sanctuary Animal Refuge since the property was turned over to the current owner, Palena Dorsey. Dogs & Cats Forever was located at the Carlton Road site before moving to its new location at 4600 Selvitz Road.
"It was horrible," Apicella said, "Animals should not be treated that way. It was the most horrible filthy place."
After Apicella got into an argument with Dorsey, deputies were called. Apicella says she was able to rescue ten dogs from the property.
Taylor said only two employees were taking care of over 100 animals at the refuge.
"If it wasn't for the two people who stayed here and worked, a lot of these animals would be dead today," said Taylor. "It's hard to see the animals like this, and they weren't taken care of the way they should have been taken care of."
Officials from the state Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services were on scene Monday assisting with the investigation, county spokesman Erick Gill said.
Taylor said some animal rescue organizations removed some of the animals from the site Monday morning. County animal control officers had not removed any animals, Gill said.
Several representatives of animal-care groups stayed overnight Monday with the animals at the refuge caring for them, Taylor said, and the animals may be moved Tuesday from the refuge.
Monday evening, a St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office vehicle was parked behind the entrance gate to the refuge, not allowing anyone but essential personnel on the property during the investigation.
Rochelle Ritchie of WPTV NewsChannel 5 and staff writer Matt Prichard contributed to this report.