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Thursday, Mar 22, 2012County: Hillsborough
Alleged: Mary Grettenberger
Inside the blue mobile home, past the towering piles of personal belongings, sat 48 cages filled with dogs.
As a canine foster parent, Mary Grettenberger had helped rescue each one.
On Thursday, Hillsborough County Animal Services stepped in to rescue them again.
Living in filth, many of the dogs were caked in feces and crawling with fleas, said Marti Ryan, an Animal Services spokeswoman.
The four dozen dogs, including terriers and Chihuahuas, appeared to have serious skin, eye and teeth problems, she said.
According to authorities, Grettenberger was housing the dogs as part of Heart to Heart Small Dog Rescue, a registered nonprofit group. The dogs came from rescue organizations and shelters as far away as Tennessee.
Grettenberger is listed as a treasurer of the organization. No charges had been filed as of Thursday.
"What her original intent was, we don't know," Ryan said. "But this casts a very bad shadow over rescue groups."
Heart to Heart Small Dog Rescue is a national organization, based in Sebastian, "comprised of caring foster parents devoted to the dogs," according to the organization's website.
In a statement by its board of directors, the group said they became aware of a "potential problem" with the amount of dogs Grettenberger was housing earlier this month.
"At least 10 dogs were being moved this weekend but before that could happen, all the dogs were seized from the home, including her personal dogs," the statement said.
The group also noted that not all the dogs involved were Heart to Heart rescues.
Reached at her home Thursday afternoon, Grettenberger declined to comment.
In an e-mail to a Times reporter, Nadine Chiodini, a member of Heart to Heart, said that the last time she received rescues from Grettenberger, the dogs were in good condition.
"No fleas or ticks, these dogs were healthy and well fed," she wrote. "They were vetted and had health certificates."
The investigation into the animal abuse began weeks ago after Hillsborough animal rescue received an anonymous complaint. They made visits to the home and built a case, Ryan said.
Authorities served a warrant early Thursday on the home at 11902 Fort King Highway.
The room where the animals were kept was dimly lit and noisy from all the barking, Ryan said. Very dirty "puppy pee pads," used for potty training, were on the floor.
Grettenberger "maintains they were a rescue group," Ryan said. "She doesn't see anything wrong with the conditions."
After receiving medical treatment, the dogs will have their futures decided in court.
"These animals could easily be placed in homes," said Pam Perry, investigations manager for Animal Services. "A true rescuer with real compassion, places those animals and doesn't keep them to themselves."
Ryan said she was told that some of the animals had come from out of state to prevent them from being euthanized.
She said the shelter does not have legal custody of the animals but is requesting an emergency hearing to obtain it. She hoped to have the animals ready for adoption at the shelter's adoptathon, scheduled for April 7 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the shelter, 440 Falkenburg Road.
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