Sheriff Prendergast: "Under the guise of a rescue, these precious animals suffered in deplorable conditions because of one man's refusal to provide the basic, minimum requirements of care."

CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – A Florida man was arrested Wednesday for more than two dozen counts of animal cruelty observed at his Citrus County animal rescue shelter.

Out of the Box Animal Rescue owner, 56-year-old Robert Allan Schweickert Jr., was arrested Wednesday, January 13, 2021 by Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) officials on 25 counts of cruelty to animals with additional charges pending. Schweickert, who owned and also operated Out of the Box Animal Rescue located at 7007 South Florida Ave. in Floral City, Florida, failed to correct prior citations issued by officials regarding inadequate kennel sizes and inhumane housing of animals at the rescue. His current bond is set at $12,500.

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Credit: CCSO | CW44 News At 10

“Under the guise of a rescue, these precious animals suffered in deplorable conditions because of one man’s refusal to provide the basic, minimum requirements of care,” said Citrus County Sheriff, Mike Prendergast. The CCSO received multiple complaints regarding the conditions at Out of the Box Animal Rescue. During the initial investigation into these complaints, Schweickert was cited for and found guilty of failing to meet Citrus County Code regarding the required kennel space of 80 sq. ft. per dog in November 2020. During this incident, CCSO Animal Control Officers (ACO) issued Schweickert a citation, giving him 10 days to bring his kennels in compliance with this ordinance.

With more than one month  of failing to comply, on January 7, 2021, a judge ordered Schweickert to allow ACO Gallant to enter the rescue property on January 12 to inspect and document kennel sizes and housing practices of the animals on scene. When ACO Gallant arrived on scene for the court-ordered inspection, Schweickert failed to appear. While waiting over an hour past the designated time, ACO Gallant and assisting deputies were able to gather evidence showing several violations from the outside fenced area of the rescue.

Later that day, Schweickert was observed by deputies outside the front gate of the rescue. ACO Gallant asked Schweickert if he would allow him to enter at that time to inspect the property. Schweickert refused to allow ACO Gallant access to the rescue. Taking the existing evidence collected, along with the refusal of the court-ordered inspection, the State Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for Schweickert’s arrest.

Law enforcement returned to the animal rescue and placed Schweickert under arrest without further incident. Officials then entered the property and inspected the living conditions of the animals, discovering numerous violations, both civil and criminal, regarding housing and care of the animals on the premises.

Violations on scene included:

• Failure to meet county ordinance regarding kennel space of 80 sq. ft. per dog

• Several kennels left outside in the elements with no coverage

• Other small kennels were found with corrugated roofs and tarps wrapped around the entire kennel – drastically restricting the airflow to the animal

• Kennels with wood or particle-board floors were urine-saturated, rotten, with large holes gaping open

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• Several dogs in need of medical care and were infested with fleas

According to officials, some of the most disturbing conditions discovered included dogs locked inside bathrooms with no windows or lights, with urine covered floors. One dog was found living in a walk-in freezer type unit that doubled as a storage room. The unit was similar to the box of a moving van – completely metal, no windows, no electricity, and no ventilation. The door to the unit was closed and locked with a dog found inside.

Due to conditions throughout the rescue, ACOs seized the animals from the rescue facility. A total of 43 dogs, 3 hens, and 1 pig were removed and transported to the Citrus County Animal Shelter.

To further document the poor conditions of the rescue, Citrus County Fire Rescue’s Hazmat Unit responded to take air quality readings. The firefighter who took the readings first attempted to enter without protective gear but was forced to leave and return with Tyvek and full breathing gear due to the high levels of ammonia in the buildings.

If you suspect animal cruelty, abuse or neglect, please speak up. Officials say the best thing you can do is report your suspicions of animal abuse/cruelty to a non-emergency line. When reporting animal abuse/cruelty, please try to gather as much information as possible, including names of people, the exact address of the animal(s), and a description of the animal(s). The CCSO reminds citizens, these animals cannot speak for themselves, they need the help of courageous citizens like you.

CW44 News At 10 will provide further updates as they are made available.

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