MILTON — A Florida Panhandle judge sentenced a woman to a year and a day in prison for leaving six starving pets in her Gulf Breeze home
On Wednesday, Toni Phelps, 41, repeatedly told Judge John Simon that she didn’t leave three dogs and three cats inside the home that she packed up and left after it was foreclosed in 2012.
“They were my family. That’s all I had,” she told the judge. “Those were my kids.”
But Simon wasn’t sympathetic. “Frankly, Ms. Phelps, you’re going to jail because this is just terrible,” he said.
The Pensacola News Journal reports Santa Rosa County investigators found bags of dog food among the trash left in the home. Assistant State Attorney Jason English said accounts from neighbors who could hear the animals indicate they survived for about six months.
The judge and prosecutor agreed that the only logical conclusion was that someone had gone to the house to feed the animals.
“Someone knew these pets were in the house from April to October, and all the evidence points to her,” Simon said. “All you had to do is call someone on the phone. All you had to do was open the door. To allow them to die in this fashion is terrible.”
Officials said neighbors called Animal Services multiple times, but animal control workers weren’t able to enter the home without Phelps’ permission, which was denied each time.
Eventually a sheriff’s deputy peered into a window, saw a dead animal and was able to obtain a search warrant.
The judge imposed the maximum sentence on Phelps. Once released from prison, she’ll be on probation for 10 years. And Simon told Phelps she is not to work with or own animals.
Phelps continued to weep and say “I didn’t do it,” as she was led from the courtroom.
A sheriff’s deputy obtained a warrant to go inside after seeing a dead animal through a window.