Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
 Gisela Tacao, 40 hoarding - animals seized from pet rescue

Hialeah, FL

Miami-Dade County

April 17, 2014  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse


Chihuahuas, miniature pinschers, rat terriers, Lhasa Apso and a Brittany spaniel.  Alleged


A woman who ran a pet rescue in Hialeah has been charged with more than 50 counts of animal cruelty after police found the animals living in filth in a small warehouse. The woman is likely facing more charges after police found scores more animals – some in grave condition – at her home in North Miami-Dade.

Photo courtesy of CBS Miami Bond in the Hialeah case was set at $5,000 per count resulting in a total bond amount of $265,000.

Investigators said Gisela Tacao, 40, got most of the animals from the private rescue agencies which received them from Miami-Dade’s Animal Services.
Tacao started Gigi’s Rescue in January 2011 at the warehouse on the 200 block of West 24th Street. Over the next year-and-a-half she reportedly began hoarding the animals at the warehouse.

Hialeah code enforcement checked out the warehouse in 2012 after neighbors complained. They reportedly found 120 dogs and cats living in “deplorable conditions” in the poorly ventilated warehouse.

Last year, Hialeah police were called to the warehouse after witnesses reported that the animals did not appear healthy. Inside the facility they found “dogs and cats everywhere, some were in cages, but most were not and feces and urine was on the floor all throughout the building,” according to the arrest warrant. There was also an area in the building that had been set up as a living space.

“Complaints based on the conditions at this site (specifically dealing with the visible presence of feces and urine throughout the building and the resulting stench that permeated the area) and based on the poor physical condition of the animals housed at the site (numbering anywhere between 100-200 animals), led to the eventual removal of the animals. 53 animals were given a physical examination which resulted in the 53 criminal charges,” according to a statement from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. “This case is a perfect example of the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” commented Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “These animals were living in the worst of circumstances, sadly waiting to be rescued from their supposed rescuer. Such neglect is not a mistake, it is a crime.”

When officers went to Tacao’s residence in North Miami Dade on Northwest 81st street to serve the Hialeah warrant, they discovered some sixty animals inside the residence. Among them was a Chihuahua-type dog reduced to skin and bone. “We don’t know if she’s going to make it,” Said Cira Leslie of the group Better Life Rescue.

Another small dog had severe eye infections, many looked malnourished and dehydrated. A gray tabby cat was removed from the home with a grotesquely broken right front paw. The cat meowed pathetically as it was brought out in an animal carrier.

Tacao is considered a “serial” animal rescuer by those familiar with her history. “People like Gisel are taking in these dogs so they won’t be euthanized at animal control,” said Stacy Narcisse of the organization Get A Life Pet Rescue. “But the animals are suffering inside her home.”

CBS4 News had profiled Tacao’s efforts on behalf of animals that are difficult to adopt out, in a story reported in March, 2011.
“If no one else takes them,” Tacao said on March 29th, 2011, “They’re going to be put down.”

Hialeah Police Det. Frank Caldara, who went to arrest Tacao on the Hialeah charges, discovered the scores of animals at her Miami-Dade home. “It’s heart breaking,” the detective said. “I have 2 small dogs and this is heart breaking.” He said people like Tacao think they’re doing good but are overwhelmed. Steve Stuart, who described himself as a good friend of the suspect, said she “took all the sick and injured dogs from Miami-Dade because they were going to be put down.”

Stuart said Tacao loved the animals she tried to save and gave her last measure of personal and financial effort to them. “She cared for them, she went to the vet with them, she spent every cent she had on food and vets,” Stuart said.

Hialeah police said Gigi’s Rescue was not a certified nonprofit animal group so Tacao could not get animals directly from the county’s animal shelter. Instead she used private rescue groups to obtain the animals from the county for her. Police said Tacao would likely face more charges in connection with the animals recovered from the Miami-Dade house, animals that she so much wanted to help but, in a Shakespearean-like irony, loved some of them… to death.

Update 4/18/14:
"There was a strong foul odor emanating from inside the warehouse, and it seemed to permeate the whole building," Hialeah police Detective Frank Caldara wrote in his arrest warrant. "Inside, there were dogs and cats everywhere, some were in cages, but most were not and feces and urine was on the floor all throughout the building. . . .

"Also, in one area, it appeared that the defendant was sleeping/living in the warehouse."

Hialeah detectives arrested Tacao at her Little River duplex and discovered an additional 60 diseased and wretchedly skinny dogs. Pet-rescue volunteers, working through an intense odor in the home, spent hours caging the animals, some of which will probably have to be put down because they are in such poor health.

Tacao, a onetime Miami Beach police public service aide known as a huge animal lover in the city, was held at a Miami-Dade jail..

She has been in the news before.

In the summer of 2011, the department suspended Tacao after she fired a pistol at a suspected armed carjacker, who moments later was felled by a police officer's bullets on the MacArthur Causeway. Tacao, who was off duty at the time, was feeding stray cats near the U.S. Coast Guard station off the causeway when she heard the emergency call over the police radio.

She was later laid off. Prosecutors are still investigating the shooting.

Tacao started Gigi's Rescue in January 2011 at the warehouse in the 200 block of West 24th Street in Hialeah. But prosecutors say that over the next year and a half she began hoarding the animals at the warehouse.

Her organization was not a certified nonprofit animal group, which meant she could not get the animals directly from the county's animal shelter. But investigators say

Kathleen Labrada, the county shelter's chief of operations and enforcement, said the county has contracts with approved nonprofit rescue groups that prohibit them from giving dogs to unauthorized organizations. But the county has not so far been asked by prosecutors to find out whether those groups violated the contract, Labrada said. "If we are provided the IDs of the animals, we can certainly trace them to make sure we take appropriate action," Labrada said.

In June 2012, Tacao's neighbors in Hialeah complained to the city about the conditions at the warehouse. Hialeah code enforcement inspectors found 120 dogs and cats living in the poorly ventilated warehouse, according to the arrest warrant.

As the city was scrutinizing her business license in September 2012, Tacao called fellow pet rescuers to help her remove most of the dogs from the warehouse.

In all, they took 53 dogs from Gigi's Rescue, all of which had originally come from Miami-Dade's animal shelter.

One dog, suffering from an untreated leg injury and malnutrition, died less than 3 days after being removed from the shelter.

Detectives pulled original medical records from the animal shelter to "track the history and deterioration of each specific dog."

The arrest is likely to cast scrutiny on Miami-Dade's often-criticized Animal Services department, which released the animals during an effort to reduce overcrowding and euthanasia procedures at the county's lone shelter.

Alarmed by a spike in the number of animals euthanized at the shelter, the County Commission in 2012 set a "no-kill" policy goal for the Animal Services department.

Local animal-rights activists hailed the move. A grassroots movement, Pets Trust Miami, soon pushed a nonbinding vote to raise $19 million in funding to improve animal welfare. Almost 65 percent of voters that November approved the measure.

The plan, approved by county commissioners, would have paid for free or low-cost vaccinations and sterilizations, a public education campaign, additional veterinary staff and examining tables. But county Mayor Carlos Gimenez, during a lean budget year, nixed the plan, which would have raised taxes by about $20 per homeowner.

In July 2013, the shelter waived fees during a 3-day adoption event - leading to a record number of cats and dogs being taken in by animal lovers and pet rescuers.

"There are empty cages throughout the shelter!" Labrada stated after the event, which led to 350 cats and dogs being adopted.

Update 4/19/14:
Eighteen dogs sitting in kennels at the Humane Society of Broward County are considered evidence in a criminal case.

Tacao, 40, will plead not guilty when she is arraigned on May 5, said her attorney, Christopher Pagan.

After Tacao's arrest, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office turned to rescue groups for help placing the dogs found in her duplex, primarily older Chihuahuas along with miniature pinschers, rat terriers, one Lhasa Apso and a blind Brittany spaniel.

In all, 25 dogs were taken to the Humane Society shelter in Dania Beach. One was in such bad shape it needed to be euthanized, said Mary Steffen, director of operations at the shelter. Six others, including 2 puppies, have already been adopted.

Because the dogs are still evidence in the ongoing case, anyone who adopts 1 may be called upon later by the Miami-Dade State's Attorney's Office. The new owners would not be asked to testify, but might need to provide updated medical records, said Kathleen Hoague, Miami-Dade's Chief Assistant State Attorney.

"These dogs are evidence," Hoague said. "I need all their vet records. If they have to be euthanized or if they need surgery, I need to know about that. And I need to know where they end up. I need to keep track of all the dogs."

Kimmie, a blind 10-year-old Chihuahua mix, made herself at home in her kennel. A pink note on her cage tells of her background: "I didn't have the chance to sleep in my own bed or cuddle with someone. I am blind and have some senior dog issues, but I'm hoping someone with a big heart and quiet home will adopt me and let me spend my golden years being loved."

Mira the min pin and 3 Chihuahuas named Lenny, Maria and Gadget shared a nearby kennel. "They came with no names," Steffen said. So shelter staff gave each dog a name. Spinny, a tan-and-white Chihuahua who is missing an eye, got his name because he spins round and round in his cage.

Many of the dogs are at least 10 years old and have eye, hip and knee issues, Steffen said. "Some of them maybe have a year left," she said. The dogs will remain at the shelter "as long as it takes" to find them homes, Steffen said.

A Better Life Rescue in Pembroke Pines took in 4 dogs, including an emaciated Pomeranian now under the care of a veterinarian.

Founder Cira Leslie has found homes for all but 1 of the dogs she's taken in, a hairless Chinese crested she named Spike. "He's a sweet little guy," she said.


CBSMiami The Miami Herald
Sun Sentinel