The afternoon of April 18 a resident of Waywood Place in Palm Coast told the city’s animal control authorities that a pack of dogs was running at large in the neighborhood, charging neighbors and barking at them. Animal control responded.
By the end of the investigation, 10 dogs and eight cats had been seized from the house at 12 Waywood Place, a 2,000 square foot rental with more animals than furniture. There was no one home when animal control arrived. “The front door was wide open,” according to court papers. Dogs were running in and out. There was no fresh air circulating. The animals’ owner had left the television blaring, possibly to cover up the sound of barking dogs. There was no water for the cats and dogs but plenty of dry food in numerous bowls–and the overpowering smell of feces and urine, and the presence of both underfoot.
The animals’ ownership was attributed to Staci Steele, 47, who now faces civil action in Flagler County Circuit Court, along with Mackenzi Steele, 22, to determine whether they are fit to have custody of the animals, whether they “neglected and cruelly treated the animal(s),” and whether they should pay for the care of the animals while they are being held at the Flagler Humane Society. Mackenzi Steele works at Safehaven Pet Rescue, according to the city.
Animal Control had a previous file on Staci Steele, when she was renting a house at 56 Rae Drive last year (from where she was evicted, according to 911 notes). There too code enforcement found Steele tyo have more than four animals at the house, a violation of city code. “It was clear that to rectify the situation the owner just moved the animals to a new residence,” animal control’s investigation concluded.
“The owner’s previous reasoning for having so many animals was that family was in town for the holiday at that time and they all bring their animals over to her home and then leave. It is clear that this is not the case as the owner used the same excuse today stating that her family is in town again for Easter and all brought their animals. The owner’s stories kept contradicting themselves and she could not give us a straight answer as to who owns which animals other than the four she is claiming.” The investigation report includes photographed copies of rabies vaccination certificates regarding six cats owned by Mackenzi Steele, with their home address listed as 56 Rae Drive. Staci Steele told animal control that she does not own any of the cats, which she said belong to her daughter’s boyfriend.
The inspection report includes numerous photographs of the house’s interior. Photos show several tin bowls and black cages spread around the loving room, bowls in bedrooms, floors strewn with shreds of clothing or paper, urine, feces, including in bedrooms and bathrooms, and living room furniture extensively torn. One picture shows three dogs on an unmade bed and one dog at the foot of the bed.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation that day. A deputy reported: “Upon arrival, I observed the front door wide open. There were approximately four dogs outside barking. I then made entry into the house. During a sweep of the building I observed a Daytona Beach Police jacket in one of bedroom closets. While searching the building, I observed fecal matter, urine, and dog food covered across the floors and walls. No persons were found inside of the residence. Based on Animal controls findings, and the
fact that they received reports of the dogs running loose on Belle Terre Pkwy and witnessed it themselves coupled with the fact that the residence was unsecure, no one was home, and the residence possessed poor living conditions for any human or animals, Palm Coast Animal Control proceeded to seize the animals for their safety.” (The Daytona Beach Police Department jacket turned out to have belonged to a former part-time crossing guard. But the Daytona Beach department asked for the jacket to be seized and returned to it.)
“When asked why the home was in such a deplorable state,” the city’s animal control report reads, “the owner acted as though she had no idea and that it was the first time she had ever seen the home like this, she stated that ‘it was not like this when I left earlier today.'” The amount of feces and urine did not happen over several hours. This is several days’ worth of being shut in this home.” (Staci Steele did not respond to a text to her cell phone, and her voice mailbox was full.)
The cats have names like Orion, Otto, Owen, Olympia, Ophelia and Otis, the dogs–a great dane, a miniature pinscher, two hounds and six pugs–all have names beginning with R. It’s not clear if those are the names their owner gave them or names assigned them at the Humane Society. It costs $30 a day to board a dog at the Humane Society. Staci Steele told an animal control officer she would not be paying the boarding fees.
The initial investigation and seizure of the animals took place on April 18. Two days later an animal control officer was again at the property to issue Staci Steele a mandatory hearing appearance citation. Steele was outside when the officer arrived. She went back in the house and closed the door, though windows were open and a strong odor of bleach wafted out, indications that cleaning was taking place. A dog was barking within. When Steele came out, “immediately she became irate and emotional,” the report states, crying, yelling and cursing, saying that the officer was destroying a family and threatening to kill herself. The officer surmised that Steele and her companion were trying to dissimulate the dog from being seized by animal control.
On Monday, Mackenzi and Staci Steele were served summonses to provide defenses to the civil action within 20 days. See the full animal control report here.