It was a grim death toll: 45 cats, five dogs, a pet macaw and even a raccoon.
Now Brevard County Sheriff's Office agents have opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to a Wednesday morning bedroom fire on Merritt Island that led to the deaths of the pets.
The fire was reported around 3 a.m. at a single-story, concrete block home in the 400 block of Kennwood Avenue. A couple living in the home
Neighbors and investigators said firetrucks crowded the narrow streets of the neighborhood as a frantic, desperate rescue scene unfolded. Firefighters, using oxygen masks, were seen attempting to save as many of the cats and dogs – including a number of mixed-breeds and Australian shepherds – as possible. Some of the dogs were also given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, witnesses said.
Deputies, who did not identify the couple, said the incident was being reviewed as part of an animal cruelty investigation and were working to determine if the animals were properly documented, had their shots and were cared for. County workers also placed a sign on the house deeming it unsafe and unsuitable for habitation.
"It's an unfortunate event," said Cpl. David Jacobs, spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, adding that the pet owners were distraught over the loss. "But it is a criminal investigation. The condition of this house ... we're talking something that is nothing less than deplorable."
Agents would not immediately say where the deceased animals were located.
Neighbors were awakened by the sounds of sirens, lights and yapping dogs. Susan Graham stepped outside and saw a ghastly, wild scene of firefighters scrambling to revive some of the lifeless pets as smoke wafted from the house.
"It was sad ... the paramedics were passing off dogs and cats to different neighbors. They were giving oxygen and I saw one first responder giving mouth to mouth," said Graham, a resident of the neighborhood.
The two homeowners who were inside the home at the time of the fire. Neighbors said they lived at the home for years.
Ultimately, 45 cats, five dogs, a macaw and the raccoon perished in the fire.
One cat and 13 dogs were rescued and taken to a nearby animal shelter for a routine quarantine. Brevard County Animal Services, overseen by the sheriff's office, was also at the scene.
Fire officials said efforts to stop the fire were hampered by some windows that were boarded up and the distressed pets [inside screaming and trying to get out of the house while burning to death].
The home, surrounded by tall shrubs, on the outside appeared to be intact after the fire, with some of the windows knocked out. The home is also surrounded by a wooden fence that neighbors said had been recently built.
Neighbors said dozens of cats would roam about and congregate in nearby yards before the fire. Hours after the incident, at least one cat was seen scampering across the street and hopping over the fence to get back into the yard of the affected home.
The Red Cross was called to assist the family.
(TCPalm - Jan 11, 2017)