BROOKSVILLE - Susan Kay is not a fighter, she said, but a 64-year-old tree-hugging pacifist who holds to the philosophy that less is more.
"I've got the plants to prove it," she said.
The fruits, herbs and flowers rising out of Lot 54 at the Hidden Valley Campground, where she's lived the last seven years, surround an Airstream camper she moved out of last winter after mice took up residency in its walls.
"I couldn't take it anymore," she said.
She sleeps in the 10-foot-by-10-foot tent beside it now, where neighbors gather around the woman in the way her 18 cats once did until Wednesday.
Deputies were dispatched to the lot after receiving a call to check on Kay, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
"When deputies entered the tent to check on (Kay), they were immediately overcome by the smell of urine and feces," the sheriff's office wrote in a release, noting Kay was not present at the time. "Deputies observed several cages inside the tent, containing cats."
An Animal Services officer was sent to the scene to evaluate the situation and possibly remove the animals, the sheriff's office wrote.
"Deputies advised that the cages were made of metal and normally weighed approximately five pounds," the sheriff's office wrote. "Due to the large amount of newspapers and feces inside the cages, some of which was a foot thick, the cages weighed approximately 70 pounds."
Kay was cited for 18 counts of animal neglect, signed a release for the animals, and all but the three cats that escaped during transport were taken away. Kay has to see a judge in six weeks, she said.
Four neighbors consoled her Thursday afternoon at the front of her lot.
"You know, this could have been stopped at two cats," said Carl Fotch, who said the situation could have been avoided with enforcement of park rules. "I've known Suzie for years. Her heart is bigger than her finances and abilities."
One of the cats that escaped during transportation, Spot, surfaced from the woods. The cat sniffed the trap Animal Services set to recover the ones that escaped, but Spot went back into the woods.
Later Rich Schaniel appeared on the road with his Yorkie "Tajsa" on the end of a leash. Kay reached down and pet the dog.
"If I thought she was a bad person I wouldn't let her pet my Yorkie, I'll tell you that right now," Schaniel said.
Although Kay's neighbors in Hidden Valley don't like to see her cry, they were empathetic of law enforcement and expressed gratitude for their services.
"I wanted to express appreciation for their consideration and care taken with Susan last night," Fotch said. "They were very considerate, and I think that's worth note when any official does their job with care and compassion."
Kay fears what will become of the animals, and whether they will be euthanized.
"And there's nothing I can do about it," Kay said. "It was my heart. You can't lose a pet and not lose your heart."
No good deed goes unpunished, she said.
"I rescued those animals," she added.
A parakeet was also taken into Animal Service's custody. Animal Services could not be reached for comment by press time.