PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — May 3 was a bizarre encounter for rescuers as they were tasked with rescuing animals from another rescue group. A Pasco County shelter was cleared out of nearly 40 dogs and cats in an active hoarding investigation.
Thirty-two dogs, four cats and a gerbil were carried out of what's supposed to be their safe haven.
Instead, according to Pasco County Animal Services, the rescue was operating illegally for nine months without an active rescue license. A county spokesperson says the Humane Society of West Florida failed to renew its rescue license in August 2018.
“But then when you are informed that it’s a place called the Humane Society of West Florida then you are like—what?!” said Rich Chaboudy. He's the executive director of Suncoast Animal League in Pinellas County.
Chaboudy is one of the rescuers sent to the troubled rescue. He tells ABC Action News he knew something was very wrong the moment he stepped into the parking lot.
"That smell was a knockout punch," he described. He says the warehouse had no A/C and no ventilation, making the scent of ammonia that much worse.
Chaboudy can’t comprehend how it got so bad. He tells us several animals were being neglected; suffering from cancer, sores, fleas, infections and left in their own feces.
“It’s made worse by knowing this person standing there and talking to us is supposed to be one of the good guys," he said.
Chaboudy says Sharon McReynolds is to blame. She's the head of the rescue group as executive director.
ABC Action News obtained a Pasco County Animal Services Report outlining the seizure. McReynolds is named in the report. The reason for the seizure is listed as “Hoarding. Overwhelmed caregiver.”
“How does she go in there and smell that smell and even think that’s ok?” asked Chaboudy.
McReynolds released the following statement regarding the reports:
The description of the events and situation were highly exaggerated by Rick Chaboudy of Suncoast Animal League (SAL). There is fact versus hearsay. The animals were not seized from a warehouse as described. The space was chosen because it was converted office space consisting of 9 air conditioned rooms to accommodate appropriate care based on size, behavior and comfort. It was because of the failure of one of the four air conditioning units and refusal of the landlord to repair such promptly, that for the benefit of the animals’ well being, assistance was sought. The animals were cared for on a daily basis, including time outside in one of the 3 play yards. Food donations of well over a 1000 lbs came monthly, and there was an entire room full of food, as documented by Pasco County Animal Services. When the premises were inspected on May 1st, 2019, how to improve conditions was discussed, but at no time was it stated the condition of the animals required immediate action. The return visit on May 3rd was to review current status of vaccinations. At that time, discussion again was regarding particular products that could assist with odor elimination. It was asked if we would consider allowing outside assistance to reduce the number of animals to a more manageable number, especially with the current air conditioning /ventilation problem. This assistance was gladly accepted and was arranged. The animals were not seized, but surrendered to PCAS and in turn, transferred to SAL and several other rescues. Mr. Chaboudy at no time asked specifics on animals that would have provided him with an accurate account of reasoning for specific issues with any of the animals. This includes a dog that came to us at 28 lbs, was now 40+ lbs, still significantly underweight, but on his way to recovery. (Photos of this dog’s condition on intake were provided to PCAS)
We are disappointed in the lack of professionalism displayed by Mr. Chaboudy and his staff/volunteers, as well as that of Normands Royal Rescue who perpetuated the inaccuracies of SAL. We do thank those rescues who assisted our animals not for any personal benefit or vendetta, but solely for the animals benefit. No further comment will be provided at this time as legal action for defamation is being determined. However, once these actions have been resolved, I would be pleased to discuss this in detail with you.
ABC Action News had interviewed McReynolds numerous times in the past, including back in 2013 when she spoke about her profession.
“Animal rescue can be extremely emotional and when it is emotion sometimes things get out of hand," McReynolds said back then.
McReynolds faces several citations including failure to vaccinate and failure to obtain animal license tags. While the county cleared out her rescue of any pets, Chaboudy’s biggest worry is she’ll be in charge of animals again.
We asked Chaboudy if he'd be willing to testify against McReynolds in court.
"Oh," Chaboudy raised his hand, "I’d be the first one in line."
We reached out to the county to figure out what happens next. Pasco County tells us they’re still investigating and other charges could come. Also, without a license, the Humane Society of West Florida cannot run their rescue under county ordinance.
We also spoke with the property owner, off camera, who tells us he was the one to call in the complaint because of the horrible smell. This owner says he will not renew the rescue's lease.