FORT LAUDERDALE — A woman who was found to have— all living in deplorable conditions — was ordered Wednesday to serve three years in prison after being convicted on animal cruelty charges.
Michelline Toulouse, 39, was convicted following a trial that included several hours of testimony in which the woman was alleged to have kept over 60 cats in her Sunrise condominium before she abandoned the animals.
Broward Circuit Judge Ari Porth sentenced Toulouse to a three-year prison sentence, which would be followed by 10 years of mental health probation. She was also ordered to perform 500 hours of community service, specifically with a garbage collection and cleaning provider.
The judge also ordered that she not keep any animals while on probation or have any contact with Saving Sage Animal Rescue Foundation, the animal rescue group where she previously worked.
The woman had pleaded no contest to the 12 aggravated animal cruelty charges that were filed against her.
In May 2021, animal rescue officials whofound at least five dozen cats in the home, including nine that had died. Several others were found to be malnourished or suffering from other health-related issues, according to officials.
Toulouse testified on her own behalf and broke down into tears while answering questions, insisting that she had not abandoned the animals despite what law enforcement officials said.
But the prosecution said several of the cats that were malnourished were close to death while others suffered from infected bite wounds inflicted by other feral cats.
Some of the cats were found in the walls of the woman’s home while at least two cats were eaten alive by maggots, according to the prosecution.
The prosecution said some of the surviving cats’ bones were protruding through their skin and all of them had parasites and covered in fleas, testimony that prosecutors used to show the abuse had been going on for several months before they were discovered.
“This was not an act of hoarding or compassion fatigue. This was cruelty in the worst level,” the prosecutor said while asking the court to impose a five-year prison sentence. “To sit and watch and do nothing as animals starve to death and cannibalize each other.”
The woman’s relatives said her intentions were good but that she was not able to fully care for the cats even though she continued to adopt several of them.
An animal rescue group called Saving Sage Animal Rescue Foundation found the cats after going to Toulouse’s home.
One rescuer testified about the conditions that they found the surviving cats in.
“They were extremely malnourished,” she said. They “looked very, very hungry (and) they were skin and bones.”