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New details: Choice High School animals removed

FORT WALTON BEACH - We have new information on why hundreds of animals were removed from an Okaloosa County school.

The animals were taken Friday, from the Choice High School on Lewis Turner Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach. They were part of a veterinary assistant training program.

The director of Animal Control says close to 300 animals, including rats, rabbits, birds and snakes were living in unhealthy conditions. Some students say the animals were well taken care of, and they don't understand why they were taken.

The animals were being kept in sheds and outbuildings here at the Choice High School and Technical Center. A series of anonymous complaints led animal control investigators to ask the principal for a look.

Investigators say they found no water, very little food, and that the buildings were not warm enough for some of the animals.

"It is not true at all," said student Denisha Bryant.

These students say the animals were treated like family pets, fed twice a day and their bedding was changed once a week. They say they made sure there was enough heat.

"For our snakes, we had a central heating lamp, and another heating element inside the tank with the snakes," said Willie Walker.

The Animal Control director says the problems were serious, but ordinarily the school would have been given time to take corrective action. She says the animals were taken away because the school district signed them over after the discovery of a green anaconda, illegal to keep without a permit.

This one, pictured on a federal website, is full grown. The snake at the school was between six and seven feet long.

"When the school board found out that was there, that's when they asked us to seize all of the animals on property, to take them all, that they were going to close the program down," said Dee Thompson of PAWS.

To the students, it's an injustice.

"I'm wondering who really called and complained about it, because no one really knows," said student Victoria Bozeman.

"Miss Arne loved the animals. She bought every single one of them with her own money," Walker said.

The Animal Control director says the instructor has not attempted to claim any of the animals.

The anaconda was turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. They're still investigating, and say it's too early to know whether any charges will be filed.