The For Sale advertisement reads: "Here's the side-by-side duplex you've been waiting for! Whether you're a savvy investor looking for an easy to manageor an owner occupant looking for that rare suburban duplex, this home is for you." The asking price is $62,900. The square footage is 1824, split between both sides. What the advertisement omits is the 68 pets and exotic animals that have shared the 912 square feet on half the duplex with the most recent tenant Steven Hart and his girlfriend.
Those animals were only detected by anyone in authority about two weeks ago when a neighbor went to the house to remove a couple of aquariums left on the front porch. Investigators tell us one of the aquariums held a dead animal. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Animal Cruelty investigators who have seen the pictures say the scene was gruesome. Some of the remains had been tossed to the curb like a vacating tenant might throw an overstuffed chair that had seen its day.
Steven Hart is charged with seven counts of animal cruelty. We do not yet know why the charges are not more numerous. We do know police discovered an array of creatures including a boa, a python and a maccaw. Also, a Bernese Mountain Dog, prairie dogs and a tortoise. Some of the animals left when Hart vacated the home burroughed their way to the other 912 square feet on the other half of the duplex. Their survival instincts told them the anywhere else would surely provide them a better chance to live. Instead of food, water and safety they only found their demise in the empty apartment next door.
A woman named Margaret Lucio is listed as the owner of the property. She also owns several properties in Onondaga County that she rents out. It is not much of a leap to assume she never visited the home even if the rent was due.
The Phoenix police are right to put out the call tonight for more information about this accumulation of animals. Someone must have known the picture wasn't right? A letter carrier, a neighbor or a friend? Maybe a meter reader, a delivery man or a family member? Someone knew what was happening inside that home. Yet, there are no signs yet of any problem being reported when the animals were alive, let alone after they died from starvation and neglect.
Facebook exploded with rage about this story tonight as soon as it was posted. I asked the question: "Why do cases like this bring such a visceral response?" The response from reader Kris Maitland summed it up: "Seriously? They are defenseless. OMGosh, we need to tighten the laws and penalties on people who do this type of crime. It's beyond disgusting and cruel - those poor animals didn't have a chance?"
We don't know when the tipping point came. Was it pet number four or five or six or seven? Or was it exotic animal 10 or 11 or 12? At some point Steven Hart knew he was in too deep both metaphorically and literally in the trash and feces that had piled up inside the home. It was so bad, police say, he simply moved out and left his problems behind.
We can only guess that he thought the landlord and the real estate agent would clean up the decaying caracasses he left behind.
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