A circuit judge has ordered Palm Coast Animal Control to return four dogs to their owners, Mackenzie and Staci Steele, and the redistribution to other people of 14 animals the Steels had kept in allegedly unsanitary conditions at a W-Section house in Palm Coast. But the court is maintaining jurisdiction over the four animals remaining with the Steels–and indeed over the Steeles themselves.
The order is the result of a settlement the Steeles and Palm Coast Animal Control agreed to.
The four dogs remaining with the Steels are to be monitored by animal control for a year, and the Steeles must comply with 20 court-ordered conditions, most of them common-sense–and legally required–measures ensuring care for the animals and compliance with local ordinances. The 14 other animals will be in the custody of people in Hastings, Port Orange, North Carolina and Palm Coast.
Palm Coast Animal Control seized the 18 cats and dogs from the house at 12 Waywood Place in mid-April after a neighbor complained about dogs running loose. The front door had been left open and the animals had been seemingly abandoned when animal control and Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies investigated. The Steeles said the animals never lacked food or water and had been properly cared for, though authorities found the conditions within the house unsanitary, and civil action against the Steeles by the city was followed by a misdemeanor criminal charge of unlawful confinement or abandonment of animals. The charge is against Staci Steele, 47.
Dogs were huddled around the front door and barking defensively when a deputy arrived. “I was immediately struck with a repugnant odor that was consistent with the odor of excessive urine that had not been tended to,” the deputy reported, along with the odor of dog and feline feces. Fecal matter on the floor “looked like it had been smeared on the floor and left to dry for quite some time.” There was no fresh air in the house, the television was blaring, but the animals appeared well fed. One bedroom and one bathroom were “very clean” and free of odors, lending the deputy to believe the house had human occupants. But he described the living conditions as “disastrous.” Deputies were aware of Staci Steele’s previous history of keeping more animals than allowed by law at a house in the R Section last year.
The case is set for arraignment in mid-May, though the disposition of the civil action could affect the outcome: the state attorney could choose not to pursue the case further, pending what amounts to the equivalent of a year’s probationary conditions on the Steeles regarding the four animals–Sweet Pea, Penelope, Gracie and Louie–they have been allowed to keep.
The court order reads like a mixture between a parent’s admonition to irresponsible children and the kind of legal order that applies to owners of dangerous animals. For example, it requires the caring of the animals to include fresh air at all times and a residence “free from animal urine and feces at all times.” The Steeles are required to abide by a limit of four animals in the house. But the Steels are also required to notify Palm Coast Animal Control if any of the animals’ ownership is transferred (a rule that usually applies to dangerous dogs), and they are required to submit to spot inspections with only 30 minutes’ prior notice (individuals on probation are subject to visits from their probation officer or law enforcement without notice, and must submit to searches without a warrant).
Non-compliance with any of the 20 conditions set forth by the county judge will result in removal of the animals from the house. The full order is below.