SPRING HILL — David Palotas uncorked a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Jesus,” he said upon learning that Hernando County Animal Services had taken 21 dogs from the home of Naoma Britten, who lives behind him.
That still left 26 dogs and three cats in Britten’s home at 12287 Landfair Street on Wednesday.
Hernando County sheriff’s and animal services officials gave Britten a week to find good homes for the remaining animals, or they, too, would be taken by the county, the sheriff’s office said.
Palotas and other neighbors said that they had heard loud barking at the home for parts of a couple of years. One neighbor said that Britten, born in 1948, had moved away for a short time.
The barking could keep you up at night or wake you up early in the morning, said Alina Mecinska, who moved to a house across the street from Britten a couple of months ago.
“It sounded like they were screaming for help, or they were hungry,” Mecinska said. “They were suffering over there. One neighbor said they had called the sheriff’s office many times.”
When investigators responded to complaints Wednesday afternoon, they found the animals, many of which were kept in rusting metal crates strewn with and waste.
Investigators reported that many of the animals appeared old and underweight, and that some were blind and had deformed feet. Many of the animals had fleas, bad skin conditions and had lost fur, investigators said.
Britten’s home was so littered with her belongings and animal waste that investigators could only walk, one at a time, through a narrow path inside, the sheriff’s office said.
Although many of the animals were kept in crates in the garage and inside the house, some were loose inside.
Britten told investigators that she runs a non-profit animal rescue out of her home, but has been too sick to care for the animals, the sheriff’s office said.
Britten did not answer the door Wednesday, although someone peered through blinds and shushed barking dogs after her doorbell rang. The smell of pet waste was strong from her front door, which was adorned with a sign indicating that there were dogs inside.
“Beware of owner!” the sign said.
In Britten’s garage, metal crates containing multiple dogs were stacked, and the crates were not big enough for the animals, which did not have water, the investigators said.
Britten slept in a bed surrounded by baby gates in a room with seven dogs, investigators reported.
Citations and a court date will likely be issued after veterinary examinations are completed, the sheriff’s office said.
Palotas, who said he couldn’t use his pool without hearing barking dogs, said that Britten would sometimes yell at the dogs to be quiet, but the silence would never last.
“(On Tuesday) there was a good four hours of constant barking,” Palotas said. “That was typical.”
Mecinska’s son, Michael Mecinska, said that he, too, was accustomed to hearing Britten’s dogs “barking up a storm.”
“How could she take care of that many dogs?” he said.