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Woman accused of neglecting her animals pleads no contest

She must pay thousands in fines and impound-related costs, but will be allowed to keep two poodles.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- A woman accused of neglecting her animals has lost custody of all but two of her 26 pets and will have to pay the county more than $3,000 in fines.

Vicki Ryan pleaded no contest to 26 misdemeanor charges of animal mistreatment in county court Wednesday. In exchange, Jim Varn, supervisor of Hernando Animal Services, said he will not pursue further felony charges against her.

"We accomplished basically what we set out to do -- to put these animals in a better place, to make sure they are better cared for," Varn said Thursday. "We're happy with the outcome."

Varn added that his office will continue to monitor Ryan to ensure that she treats the two poodles she was allowed to keep properly. He said Ryan was allowed to keep them for emotional support. She has had one of the dogs for 10 years and the other for five. Varn said he thought taking them away might be cruel, because Ryan is going through a divorce and is undergoing counseling.

"As long as we have the right to inspect them, I feel all right about her having the two dogs," he said. "With all she is going through . . . I hope they will be something she can hold on to."

Since she was first cited for animal neglect, Ryan has maintained that she has never mistreated her animals. She says she has gone through problems lately that led to the dirty environment her animals were found in, but she has declined to elaborate. She says her horses are naturally skinny and continued to argue that all the animals should be returned to her.

Authorities disagree. Ryan originally was cited last month by Hernando County sheriff's deputies who came to her house at 12180 Sunshine Grove Road west of Brooksville when someone reported her horses had broken loose. The deputies noticed that the horses looked "extremely underfed," a report said.

When the officials returned the horses to the woman's house, they found a dead kitten in the yard and dead birds in outdoor cages. Several dogs and wolf hybrids on the property also appeared malnourished, the report said.

Inside the home, deputies found more bird cages in which the birds had no food or water, as well as two maggot-infested cages holding ferrets, an aquarium with an unidentifiable carcass in it, and rooms filled with feces and urine, a report said.

The animals were seized by the county and were treated by veterinarians. It was determined that three of the horses were 250, 150 and 100 pounds underweight.

Ryan said Thursday that he and officials from the State Attorney's Office thought felony charges could have been pursued in Ryan's case. But Varn added that he thought such action, although legally justified, was not the right thing to do.

"She could lose her job with the hospital," Varn said, referring to the fact that Ryan is a laboratory technician for Oak Hill Hospital, and a felony conviction likely would get her fired.

"She's got two mouths to feed, and I don't think I could have slept at night knowing that," he said.

In addition to losing her animals, Ryan will have to pay $1,000 in fines and another $2,279 for the cost of impounding, boarding and treating the animals, County Judge Peyton Hyslop ruled.

Varn said he plans to put the horses up for auction and is taking applications from people who would like to adopt the other animals. For information, call Animal Services at 796-5062.

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