Dead rabbits lead to drug charges against NW Fla. woman

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“The rabbits were in various stages of decay. Some were only fur and bones inside the cage and the most intact rabbit was full of maggots.”

ERYN DION News Herald Reporter @PCNHErynDion

PANAMA CITY — A cage full of dead rabbits led to the discovery of a drug house and the arrest of a local woman, according to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Malinda Sue Dowling, 48, was arrested Thursday and charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of paraphernalia, keeping a public nuisance structure for drugs and seven counts of aggravated animal cruelty resulting in death after a joint investigation by Bay County Animal Control and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Animal Control workers initially responded to Dowling’s residence at 402 Brady Way on Sept. 15 after a call concerning dead rabbits left inside a cage, according to reports. In the backyard, Officer Mary Weir with Animal Control found seven dead rabbits in a cage with no food or water.

“The rabbits were in various stages of decay,” the complaint affidavit reads. “Some were only fur and bones inside the cage and the most intact rabbit was full of maggots.”

A woman tenant renting a room in Dowling’s home told Animal Control officers that Dowling would become “agitated and violent” whenever she tried to take care of the rabbits. In a sworn statement to BCSO deputies, the woman, who moved in back in July, said she initially didn’t know the rabbits were out there because the backyard was so full of debris and junk. Once she and her son found the rabbits, she began feeding them but stopped after Dowling threatened her, she said.

“Dowling told her they are her rabbits, and she had no business messing with them, as they are food, not pets,” the report states.

Dowling left the rabbits for days without food and water, often in the direct sun, the tenant said. Investigators with BCSO returned to the residence Thursday with an arrest warrant for Dowling, but found more than just dead rabbits. Inside the home, syringes, baggies and other paraphernalia were scattered in plain view, investigators reported, and plastic baggies found in Dowling’s bedroom field tested positive for methamphetamine. According to the report, a witness said they observed Dowling snorting a substance inside her vehicle in her driveway, as well as numerous individuals visiting the residence for “5-10 minutes” at a time.

After being read her rights, Dowling allegedly said she knew her boyfriend had been using meth inside her home, but believed he had stopped.

After her first appearance on Friday, Dowling’s bond was set at $15,000.