Thursday, March 9, 2000

Florida: Marta Pejouhy, 62, ordered to surrender her nearly 40 dogs

FLORIDA -- Even though Marta Pejouhy claims to love her 37 dogs, she cannot care for them properly, a Palm Beach County judge ruled in granting the city's request to gain custody of the animals.

The dogs were living alongside rats in a house rank with feces, urine and garbage, according to court documents. The pets were seized Jan. 22 during the execution of a search warrant at Pejouhy's home on Southeast 28th Avenue.

County Judge Susan Lubitz agreed with city officials that the conditions in the house were deplorable and found that Pejouhy, 62, is "unfit or unable to adequately provide for the animals."

Palm Beach County Animal Control officials said all the dogs are healthy enough to be put up for adoption. But first they must be sterilized, and officials are not prepared to start processing the dogs for adoption yet.

Pejouhy's attorney said Tuesday that he is trying to stop that process and get 10 of the dogs back for his client. Bert Shapero, who is representing Pejouhy, filed a motion on Wednesday asking Lubitz to reconsider her decision and impose a stay on any adoption proceedings.

Shapero said the conditions in Pejouhy's home might have been deemed unlivable for animal control officers, but the conditions were fine for animals, her primary interest.

"What we may not consider suitable for humans may be sufficient as far as dogs are concerned," Shapero said. "I haven't talked to a dog for a long time, so I don't know whether the dogs thought they were livable or not."

In her order, Lubitz noted that Pejouhy had taken measures to clean up her home, but said the only reason Pejouhy took those measures was because her dogs were seized.

The dogs seized were 12 retrievers, seven terriers, five hounds, four pit bulls, three German shepherds, and dogs of six other breeds.

Several were treated for minor medical conditions, said Liz Roehrich, animal control officer for Boynton Beach.

Many of the dogs were confined to crates that were too small or had been leashed to a chair. Others were chained to trees in the front yard, according to court documents. The yard was covered with feces, dirty food bowls, open bags of dog food and dead rats.

A veterinarian who assessed the dogs after they were seized said they appeared to be well-fed, but they had minor medical conditions such as eye and ear infections, hair loss, fly-bitten ears and open sores.

Pejouhy told animal control officers that she understood the situation was out of control, but that "at least [the dogs] are not at the pound being killed," according to court documents.

Animal control officers think Pejouhy finds stray dogs and keeps them in her home without notifying authorities, as required by state law.

"The bottom line is there were good intentions on her part, but they were very misguided," Roehrich said. "She would not relinquish these dogs. To keep them in those conditions was better than the alternative to her."

Lubitz denied the city's motion to require Pejouhy to pay for the costs associated with caring for her dogs since Jan. 22, which so far total more than $10,000.

Pejouhy owes fines in excess of $10,000 as a result of a lien on her property, city officials said. She has been fined $25 a day since Jan. 18, 1999, for failing to maintain her property.

(Sun Sentinel - March 9, 2000)