A woman charged with mistreating 158 dogs at theSanctuary Animal Refuge west of Fort Pierce was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison, primarily for stealing the money that was supposed to go toward the animals’ care.
Palena Rae Dorsey, 60, was charged with 158 counts of animal cruelty in April 2011 after St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputies discovered deplorable conditions at the shelter Dorsey ran at 9550 Carlton Road. Conditions included her malnourished dogs infected with heartworm and suffering from open and unhealed sores, mange, dehydration, diarrhea and fleas crowded into pens, lying in feces and urine.
During Monday’s hearing, Deputy Rick Stuhr of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office started showing Circuit Judge Gary Sweet a number of photos of dogs taken from the shelter and conditions there. After numerous photos, Sweet said, “That’s enough.”
Dorsey also was charged with first-degree grand theft after authorities determined she used money from a $500,000 trust for the animals’ care from the estate of Laura Linscott, founder of Dogs and Cats Forever, to buy a home in Fort Pierce, cars, a motor home, electronics and appliances.
Sweet sentenced Dorsey to 10 years in prison for the grand theft and five years for the cruelty charges, which had been reduced to 16 counts, one for each of the dogs from the shelter that had to be euthanized.
Sweet allowed Dorsey to serve the two terms concurrently, but he also ordered her to serve 20 years of probation after her release from prison. During that time, Dorsey is to repay $305,54.71, the amount authorities were able to prove she stole.
Sweet also ordered that Dorsey can own no more than three animals.
Speaking barely above a murmur, Dorsey said she was sorry for what she had done, adding that she was “overwhelmed” by the number of animals in her care.
“I’m devastated,” Dorsey said. “I love animals.”
Several former co-workers who spoke on Dorsey’s behalf agreed she let her love of animals consume her.
Scott Fuerst, an attorney who worked with Dorsey at a Fort Lauderdale firm and is a cofounder of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said Dorsey was “compassionate to a fault” and didn’t know how to “draw the line” when there were animals for which she couldn’t care.
“She couldn’t turn down that call in the middle of the night” about an animal that needed to be rescued, Fuerst said.
Fuerst said Dorsey “did the best she could, but circumstances overcame her. She made mistakes, but she deserves what she gave to the animals she rescued: a second chance.”
Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans countered that Dorsey already has had second and third chances.
Dorsey was arrested in 1996 for stealing from an elderly person she was supposed to be caring for, Evans said, adding that Dorsey now has four theft-related convictions.
“This is a horrific case of animal abuse,” Evans said, “and a horrific case of theft from a charity.”
Animal lovers, veterinarians and volunteers with the humane societies along the Treasure Coast donated their time and medical supplies to nurse the surviving animals back to health.
Dorsey’s facility was the former site of the Dogs & Cats Forever no-kill shelter, which moved to 4600 Selvitz Road in December 2010 after a dispute with Linscott.
Jay Apicella, executive director of Dogs & Cats Forever, called Dorsey’s sentence “just.”
“I saw the horror that was out there,” Apicella said.