MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A woman who ran a pet rescue in Hialeah has been charged with more than 50 counts of animal cruelty after police found the animals living in filth in a small warehouse. The woman is likely facing more charges after police found scores more animals – some in grave condition – at her home in North Miami-Dade on Thursday.
Bond in the Hialeah case was set at $5,000 per count resulting in a total bond amount of $265,000.
Investigators said Gisela Tacao, 40, got most of the animals from the private rescue agencies which received them from Miami-Dade’s Animal Services.
Tacao started Gigi’s Rescue in January 2011 at the warehouse on the 200 block of West 24th Street. Over the next year-and-a-half she reportedly began hoarding the animals at the warehouse.
Hialeah code enforcement checked out the warehouse in 2012 after neighbors complained. They reportedly found 120 dogs and cats living in “deplorable conditions” in the poorly ventilated warehouse, according to the Herald.
Last year, Hialeah police were called to the warehouse after witnesses reported that the animals did not appear healthy. Inside the facility they found “dogs and cats everywhere, some were in cages, but most were not and feces and urine was on the floor all throughout the building,” according to the arrest warrant.
There was also an area in the building that had been set up as a living space.
“Complaints based on the conditions at this site (specifically dealing with the visible presence of feces and urine throughout the building and the resulting stench that permeated the area) and based on the poor physical condition of the animals housed at the site (numbering anywhere between 100-200 animals), led to the eventual removal of the animals. 53 animals were given a physical examination which resulted in the 53 criminal charges,” according to a statement from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
“This case is a perfect example of the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” commented Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “These animals were living in the worst of circumstances, sadly waiting to be rescued from their supposed rescuer. Such neglect is not a mistake, it is a crime.”
When officers went to Tacao’s residence in North Miami Dade on Northwest 81st street to serve the Hialeah warrant Thursday, they discovered some sixty animals inside the residence. Among them was a Chihuahua-type dog reduced to skin and bone.
“We don’t know if she’s going to make it,” Said Cira Leslie of the group Better Life Rescue.
Another small dog had severe eye infections, many looked malnourished and dehydrated. A gray tabby cat was removed from the home with a grotesquely broken right front paw. The cat meowed pathetically as it was brought out in an animal carrier.
Tacao is considered a “serial” animal rescuer by those familiar with her history.
“People like Gisel are taking in these dogs so they won’t be euthanized at animal control,” said Stacy Narcisse of the organization Get A Life Pet Rescue. “But the animals are suffering inside her home.”
CBS4 News profiled Tacao’s efforts on behalf of animals that are difficult to adopt out, in a story reported in March, 2011.
“If no one else takes them,” Tacao said on March 29th, 2011, “They’re going to be put down.”
Hialeah Police Det. Frank Caldara, who went to arrest Tacao on the Hialeah charges Thursday, discovered the scores of animals at her Miami-Dade home.
“It’s heart breaking,” the detective said. “I have two small dogs and this is heart breaking.” He said people like Tacao think they’re doing good but are overwhelmed.
Steve Stuart, who described himself as a good friend of the suspect, said she “took all the sick and injured dogs from Miami-Dade because they were going to be put down.”
Stuart said Tacao loved the animals she tried to save and gave her last measure of personal and financial effort to them.
“She cared for them, she went to the vet with them, she spent every cent she had on food and vets,” Stuart said.
Hialeah police said Gigi’s Rescue was not a certified nonprofit animal group so Tacao could not get animals directly from the county’s animal shelter. Instead she used private rescue groups to obtain the animals from the county for her.
Police on Thursday said Tacao would likely face more charges in connection with the animals recovered from the Miami-Dade house, animals that she so much wanted to help but, in a Shakespearean-like irony, loved some of them… to death.