Couple with toddler hoarded almost 300 animals, officials say

Florida couple with toddler hoarded almost 300 animals, officials say

An Oldsmar couple is facing child abuse and animal cruelty charges after authorities say they responded to their home to find almost 300 animals of various shapes, sizes and species.

"We're looking at snakes, rabbits, hedgehogs, rats, numerous animals and dogs," explained Jill Purl, an official with Tampa Bay SPCA. "At this stage, looking at the animals, this is definitely a case of animal hoarding."

Pinellas County deputies discovered the small zoo when they were called to the home early Sunday morning by Jeffrey O'Neil and Jennifer Kovacs.

The couple claimed a 16-month-old child left in their care was missing. O'Neil, 28, and Kovacs, 26, were under the impression the child had crawled out of its crib and walked out the front door.

Investigators say when they got to the home just after 6 a.m., the couple was drunk. They also failed to notice a note from a relative stating they had taken the baby before they called for help.

The relative also said several attempts to wake up O'Neil from his slumber on the couch were unsuccessful.

The deputies also noticed the couple had an extensive collection of animals.

The child the suspects thought was missing is with relatives and is in good condition.

O'Neil and Kovacs aren't the only ones living in the animal kingdom. Jennifer's mother, Joyce Kovacs, also resides at 206 Lee St.

"You just can't imagine having that many critters," Joyce Kovacs said.

She claims most of the animals arrived when O'Neil moved in almost three years ago. Joyce Kovacs says the couple isn't hoarding the critters, it's a business.

"They just breed and breed and breed and breed and they use them. They have multiple snakes and reptiles," Joyce Kovacs says. "They would go sometimes to the flea market on the weekend, and they would sell bunnies and hedgehogs. They would post on Craigslist and stuff like that."

According to a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office report, the animals were being bred and sold without proper licensing permits.

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are also investigating the couple's actions.

So why would Joyce Kovacs put up with all the animals?

She says she lived in what she called a "pig pen" because of the 16-month-old child, her granddaughter. "How do you put a baby out?"she said.

Joyce is worried about them but is glad the animals are gone. She is hoping to be awarded custody of the child.

"It just started getting overwhelming, and I just couldn't deal with it," she says.

The Tampa Bay SPCA said they will try to get the couple to sign over custody the animals. If they, don't they will file for custody for every one of them.

O'Neil and Jennifer Kovacs are being held without bond at the Pinellas County Jail.

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