Emergency services in Bradley Beach, N.J. responded to a 2 a.m. fire alarm on Sunday but instead of a fire, officials found 36 dead cats decomposing in a foot of excrement inside the home of a retired New Jersey teacher, The Asbury Park Post reported.
Lorraine, R. Smith, 65, is facing 36 counts of animal cruelty – one for each dead pet – and could be fined roughly $3,600 for the gruesome crime, which Victor "Buddy" Amato, chief of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), called a "nightmare."
Bradley Beach Police Chief Leonard A. Guida told reporters the strong odor of the decaying cats likely caused the fire alarm to go off. Unfortunately, the alarm came too late to save any of the animals.
Wearing Hazmat suits to protect themselves from the decomposing remains, emergency service personnel and SPCA officials entered the property to survey the situation. Needless to say, they were shocked by what they found.
Perhaps the most disturbing discovery, officials said it appeared that some of the animals had practiced cannibalism in a bid to stay alive. Some of photos taken of the inside of the house are graphic:
“It looked like a lot of the animals were cannibalizing one another," Amato told the APP.
"I have been doing this for ten years and out of ten this was ten plus, he said. "Even with hazmat suits on we could only stay inside the property for 15 minutes at a stretch and there are remains of the cats and faeces up to a foot high inside."
All of the animals are thought to be cats, however, because the various levels of decomposition it was impossible to know for sure, Amato explained to reporters.
Investigators estimate the animals had been left alone in the house for as long as a year while Smith went back and forth from her Bradley Beach home and her ill mother's residence in Neptune, N.J, APP.com wrote. When they began to die as a result from neglect, she just left them to rot inside the home.
"These are not bad people," Amato said. 'They have good intention, but then they get overwhelmed and begin to get desensitised to what is going on. I think taking care of her mother became a priority over taking care of the animals."
Neighbors were surprised by the severity of the animal cruelty occurring inside one of the homes on their street, however, some of them had reportedly complained repeatedly about the odor coming from the house and the unkempt yard.
"It's just a shame what happened," a neighbor named Betty said. "I can't understand how someone could do that, just walk away from a houseful of cats."