Allegations of Animal Abuse in Rundown House on Ritzy Hibiscus Island

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On paper, Have a Heart Dog and Cat Rescue sounds like an animal lover's ideal. Its address on exclusive Hibiscus Island conjures scenes of puppies playing and kittens canoodling in luxury. Several nearby mansions are worth eight figures.

But nothing about 79 North Hibiscus Dr. is as it seems. Nowadays, the $2 million property looks more like a haunted house than an animal rescue. It sounds like one too, with neighbors twice complaining of hearing painful howls piercing the night. Now Miami-Dade County Animal Services is investigating allegations of animal abuse within the mysterious property's moldering walls.

"These dogs are in imminent danger," one neighbor wrote in an anonymous email sent to New Times.

Spiderwebs smack visitors in the face. A "Bad Dog" sign hangs on the front door. The ceilings are caving in. Everything reeks of mold, urine, and feces. Dirty windows reveal expensive marble, an ancient piano, rotting furniture, and mounds of excrement.

And then there are the dogs. The same neighbor also sent New Times photos of what appear to be mangy, sore-ridden dogs amongst the filth.

"[They] are never taken outside for relief, forced to defecate in the same room where they sleep and eat," the neighbor wrote. "This man should be arrested for animal cruelty."

That man would be Terrence Rosenberg, Have a Heart's founder.

"I'm not interested in talking to you about it," he told New Times when asked about the complaints. Then he hung up.

Like his house, Rosenberg himself is a mystery. Incredibly, back in 1976, he was a real estate attorney wealthy enough to buy the Hibiscus house. But records reveal his troubles began soon after.

In 1979, he was accused of writing worthless checks. The charges were dropped, but the next year Rosenberg was fined for a string of housing violations, records of which have been destroyed.

Legal problems kept coming. Feds issued a tax lien against him in 1982, and over the next two decades Rosenberg was sued dozens of times, mostly, it seems, over real estate transactions. In 2003, the City of Miami Beach filed a lien against the Hibiscus house for $21,375 over unpaid bills.

In January 2006, Rosenberg was arrested for fraud. Prosecutors claimed he and another man conspired to swindle several old ladies out of their houses. Charges against the lawyer were eventually reduced to third-degree grand theft.

Rosenberg was sentenced to only a year of probation but was permanently disbarred.

Shortly thereafter, he lost the Hibiscus house to foreclosure. A corporation snatched up the place, only for a judge to nix the sale. The legal limbo could account for the house's current state.

Then, this past October, Rosenberg was arrested again when a young female accomplice stole from Publix. He was caught returning the goods for a cash refund, but the charge was dropped.

Rosenberg's animal rescue operation has also been plagued by problems. Records show the state dissolved his previous nonprofit, only for him to reopen it under an altered name. The IRS, meanwhile, revoked Have a Heart's tax-exempt status in May 2011. Animal services is currently investigating the abuse complaints.

"The saddest part is that he must have cared about the dogs at the beginning," says the anonymous neighbor, one of several to complain about the property.

"But now he's doing them more harm than good."

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes. Follow this journalist on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

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