The animal rescue community in Florida is celebrating after a case years in the making finally came to a close.
What allegedly started with good intentions and the desire to help animals for former animal rescuer Cheryn Smilen, 56, ended in a very sad case when authorities were notified that a property she was renting appeared to be the location of a hoarding situation, inhabited by cats but no people.
It’s not uncommon for rescuers to find themselves in over their heads, but this case had been going on far too long, and by the time the cats were discovered, many had already perished.
According to the Miami Herald, neighbors noticed the efficiency in Miami seemed to be loaded with cats. The felines could often be seen crying and scratching at the windows.
When police entered the building, they found dozens of cats in horrific conditions. The cats inside were emaciated, with no visible food or water available. The living space was caked in feces and drenched in urine and there was no air conditioning, making the place a hellish sauna.
While there was food stockpiled both inside and outside the building, it was not accessible to the cats.
Perhaps the worst part was that there were bones in the building as well, in what police detective Judy Webb described as layers of dead animals: “dead cats over dead cats over dead cats.”
“These cats had been dead for months, not weeks,” Webb said during a 2019 hearing. “There’s no way she didn’t know this was happening.”
There was also reason to believe, based on the evidence, that the cats had been eating each other just to survive.
“Many cats were found dead, some were unresponsive and sadly had to be euthanized,” reads a post from Voice For Us. “Only five surviving cats were found and were cared for by animal services. The woman even ran a cat adoption website through which she used to ask for donations. The website was taken down.”
“These cats were in there starving, and what they were put through, the agonizing pain, it’s just unacceptable,” local rescuer Yatir Nitzany said, according to WPLG-TV. “An example needs to be made out of her.”
In a plea deal shared on Monday, Smilen pleaded guilty to six counts of cruelty to animals (out of an original 30 counts). She accepted a sentence of 364 days in jail and 15 years of probation, and she is banned from owning or rescuing any animals.
“You have to stay away from animal-rescue organizations,” Judge Alberto Milian told her. “You really got a just sentence. There is no reason to believe these animals didn’t suffer a great deal.”
“I know they did,” Smilen, whose attorney says she suffers from mental health issues, responded.
“It’s hard for me to believe how humans can be so cruel,” Milian added.
Nitzany celebrated the news on Facebook on Tuesday.
“What an amazing day yesterday!” she wrote. “We fought hard and tough to make sure she pays for what she did! Nobody gets away with animal cruelty under my watch!”
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