Pets and exotic animals left to die in abandoned Phoenix home

Steven Hart, accused of animal cruelty.

Phoenix police have charged a man with animal cruelty for allegedly abandoning his home with animals and pets left inside to die.

The animals were discovered dead at the home on 86 Cherry Street in Phoenix. Several of them had attempted to dig out of Hart's apartment into the apartment next door. Among the animals discovered in this week long investigation: a python, bearded dragons, and a macaw. Also, a tortoise, prairie dogs and ferrets.

Steven Hart now lives in Jordan. He is charged with seven counts of animal cruelty one for each of the animals found dead on the property. Those animals include the macaw, snakes, ferrets and a rat. The animal cruelty counts are class A misdemeanors under the Agriculture and Markets Law.

"We come across a lot of things but we have a job to do and we had to do that job that night," said Police Chief Tim Chura. "It was deplorable and disgusting but we had to get those animals out of there."

Chief Chura says it's the biggest animal cruelty case in the Village during his time heading the department.

Here is how Phoenix police described what they discovered at the home on Cherry Street. "The two week investigation began when a Village resident went to 86 Cherry Street to remove several aquariums from the front porch. As the resident was moving the aquarium, he discovered a dead animal located inside the tank. The resident notified Village police who discovered five dead exotic animals packed in plastic garbage bags on the porch. Entry was made into the vacant apartment where several other animal bodies were found in a second floor bedroom. Officers noticed deplorable conditions inside the apartment with trash and animal feces thrown throughout. It also appeared that some of the animals had attempted to borough through a wall into the apartment next door. The Village Codes Enforcement Officer has since declared the apartment unfit for habitation."

"The investigation revealed that Hart and his girlfriend had purchased 68 animals and had them all living together in the apartment. The animals included: 1 Great Dane, 1 Burmese mountain dog, 2 Australian cattle dogs, 1 red-nosed pit bull, 7 cats, 1 Gannet (African cat}, 30 ferrets, 4 chinchillas, 1 red-tailed boa snake, 2 ball pythons, 1 coastal carpet python, 2 Iguanas, 1 armadillo lizard, 2 bearded dragons, 1 blue and gold macaw, 2 prairie dogs, 2 squirrels, 1 red footed tortoise, 1 leopard tortoise, 1 gecko, 1 tegu (monitor), 1 chameleon and 2 hedgehogs. They also had numerous rabbits, rats and mice that were raised for feeding and as pets. The police investigation concluded that some of the animals died from neglect, while others died from starvation when Hart ran out of money."

Phoenix police say Hart was able to find homes for most of the animals. He also took some of them to his new home in Jordan.

Neighbors who talked with CNY Central's Jim Kenyon were upset. Adam Hart (no relation) said his neighbor "hasn't been home" for 3 months. "He wasn't taking care of the land and them come to find out, all of the animals." He said "no one knew" there were so many animals inside the house.

Sabrina Converse lives in the same building. She says a year ago a prairie dog chewed its way into her apartment through the wall. "When the prairie dog went through our wall, it surprised me because it was between me and my now 3 year old. She was in the crib."

Converse says the animals began showing up at the apartment next door after Hart's girlfriend moved in. "That's when we started noticing the animals. She's an animal lover and I think they just started collecting the animals. They liked the idea of having them but didn't realize how much it took to take care of them... she left first and I think it got overwhelming for him." Converse added, " He had been gone for about 2 months before we realized all the dead animals were on the porch."

The case is being investigated by Phoenix Police Officers Edward Cox and Michael Rathbun. The investigation is ongoing and additional arrests are possible. Anyone with information please contact Phoenix Police at 695-2001.

Steven Hart is due to be arraigned in Town of Schroeppel Court on June 13, 2012.

Real Estate listings show 86 Cherry Street in Phoenix is on the market for $62,900.

Matt's Memo blog: How did the presence of 68 creatures go undetected for so long?