GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A Gainesville woman faced the possibility of never owning an animal in Alachua County again at a hearing Wednesday in the county’s Family and Civil Justice Center.
Patricia Garibaldi is accused of cruelty toward animals — her 15 cats — which were found living in “deplorable” conditions in her home: debris stacked to the ceiling, roaches in the cats’ food and water bowls, feces and urine on every surface. The decision, which will be made by Judge Meshon Rawls, was postponed until March 6.
During the hearing, Wednesday, Dr. Samantha Stephenson, a veterinarian for 17 years and currently with Alachua County Animal Resources, took the stand to give her testimony on what she witnessed in Garibaldi’s home and the subsequent reports she filed.
“Do you have an opinion on if Ms. Garibaldi can care for these cats or other animals?” Diana Johnson, the attorney representing Alachua County, asked Stephenson while she was on the stand.
“I don’t think that she is, based on the deplorable conditions of her home,” Stephenson said.
In her reports on Garibaldi’s cats, Stephenson went into great detail about the health and well-being of each cat. Two cats were found dead and 13 others were described as feral, flea-infested, anemic, very susceptible to skin infections and some had oral tumors, according to the report and her testimony Wednesday.
Stephenson wrote in her report that Garibaldi explained that a male cat was being confined in a bathroom until a veterinarian could come to neuter the cat in the home.
“I’m also concerned that the cats are undergoing surgeries in a non-medical environment,” Stephenson said on the stand Wednesday.
When Garibaldi’s counsel, Chelsea James, went to cross-examine Stephenson, Johnson raised concerns that James is a licensed attorney in Colorado but not Florida.
According to Florida Statute 828.073(2)(b), the delayed hearing allows 30 days after the petition is filed to determine whether Garibaldi is fit to care for her cats, James said. The petition was filed on Feb. 10, which allows until March 12 to hold the hearing.
When asked why the hearing was delayed, Johnson said it was actually because James is not licensed in Florida.
Stephenson was originally called to Garibaldi’s house in December after the county received reports concerning the well-being of animals at the residence. Animal Enforcement Officers attempted to educate Garibaldi on proper care for her cats, and the county requested assistance from local community support services, according to court documents.
Gainesville Fire Rescue also conducted an air monitoring test, in which they found “high ammonia levels” and concluded “no person should be in the home longer than 16 hours,” according to court documents.
On Feb. 2, Animal Enforcement Officers and Gainesville Police Department officers served a warrant on Garibaldi’s property. All 15 cats were seized, and the 13 still alive were monitored and are currently housed by animal services.
While on the stand Wednesday, Stephenson said she has been doing this work for years. She called Garibaldi’s house the “worst she has ever seen.”