Hope for a better life for two Arkansas women won’t be coming true anytime soon.
Penelope Walker, 67, and Gina M. Walker, 44, each face 37 counts of animal cruelty charges after the duo’s vehicles were discovered parked Friday night in the Rainbow Square Plaza at 11352 N. Williams St.
The charges were filed Monday, with bond for each woman set at $74,000. Each charge is felony third degree. Black said how much time, if any, they would serve would be determined by a judge, who sets criteria for sentencing.
According to the arrest report, in their post-Miranda interview, the Walkers confirmed their shared ownership of all of the animals. Both subjects agreed they were aware that the living conditions were neglectful and unsanitary and that they were aware of the dangers.
The ghastly discovery authorities found inside a Ford van and an RV in the parking lot confirmed what the Walkers eventually admitted to after the fact.
Animals ranging from donkeys to an African Gray parrot were found inside the vehicles, covered in their own fecal matter with no water, very little food and fresh air.
Animal control officers removed 37 live and at least 12 deceased animals from the vehicles, said Elaine DeIorio, county spokeswoman.
Altogether, a total of two donkeys, six goats and seven dogs were removed from the van and a total of 19 dogs, two cats and one bird were taken from the RV. The live animals were mostly kept in crates; officers found the deceased animals in bags, coolers, boxes and crates, DeIorio said. The crates had layers of animal waste, with one crate weighing in at 92 pounds.
“This scene was horrific, the odor, a lot of people, even the crowd was complaining of the odor,” Dunnellon Police Chief Joanne Black said. “Our first priority was to look out for the well-being of the animals. Always take care of the animals first; then start the investigation.
“The condition of the cages … it had not been changed,” she said. “There was no clean bowls, no clean water. Many cages had been there for several days without water or food or having been cleaned.”
According to their arrest reports, the Walkers said the deceased animals had been placed in plastic bags. The animals, they told police, had died throughout the past year and had been frozen until thawed during their travels from Arkansas.
A majority of the animals were so malnourished they could not walk and were covered in fecal and urine excrement, causing damage to their skin due to the length of time they were continually covered in excrement, the report stated.
When approached by Cpl. Carolina Rolfes of the Dunnellon Police Department in the parking lot, Gina Walker said there was only one dog in the RV. When asked if she could inspect the RV, Walker gave permission, but the odor was so overwhelming, Cpl. Rolfes immediately called for back-up and help from the city’s animal control services. The city then in turn sought assistance from Marion County Animal Services, which had to ask for Marion County Fire and Rescue’s HazMat unit to respond.
“They went into motor home and checked all the levels inside,” Black said. “They were doing a quick evaluation.”
The Walkers told police they had lost their home in Arkansas and had decided to relocate to Florida in hopes of finding property large enough for their animals. The pair had spent the past three to four weeks traveling. Black said throughout her career she’s seen cases of animal hoarding in homes, but never mobile.
“It was up there, it was horrific,” she said. “I’ve never seen a mobile hoarding-type abuse. In (the Walkers’) minds, they didn’t consider it abuse.”
As the scene unfolded in the Rainbow Square Plaza, a crowd of onlookers gathered to see what all of the commotion was about.
The looks of shock, horror and disbelief covered the faces of all ages.
The comments were varied.
“Those poor animals.”
“I hope they are OK.”
“That’s just terrible.”
“How could someone do this?”
That was what everyone wanted to know.
“People were very concerned, which is good,” Black said. “Even though the smell was terrible, (the citizens) were asking, ‘How can I help?’ ‘Can I take any of the animals?’ A lot of them stayed there till the end, just to see if we needed anything. It was really nice. The citizens were there to assist, not just look.”
Black also said citizens were already asking if those pets rescued are available for adoption. She said as of right now, they are not available until they recover, but the department will keep everyone informed as much as possible through Facebook and other avenues.
“If they do come up for adoption, we’ll let folks know,” Black said. “We’ve been updating on Facebook; when the animals are ready for adoption, we’ll also put that on our Facebook page.”
The current health of the animals was available at press time. Black said they are being treated and cared for.
“They’re in a better environment,” she said. “At least they are out of that environment.”