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The CEO of a non-profit animal rescue organization in South Carolina has been charged after investigators found the remains of 30 decomposing animals in her home.
Caroline Dawn Pennington, 47, was taken into custody last week and is facing 30 counts of ill treatment to animals, reports USA Today.
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Pennington, the director and CEO of GROWL, an animal rescue organization, turned herself in late last week, reports NBC News.
Deputies with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department told media outlets that they responded to a call on May 22, after someone reported a “smell of death” coming from Pennington’s Columbia, S.C. home.
Thirty dead animals — 28 dogs and two cats — were found in various states of decomposition, reports NBC. The animals were in crates and cages, many of them dead in their own waste, and officials said it appeared as though they died from dehydration and starvation.
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Authorities also said it appeared that many of the animals had been dead for several months.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told USA Today the discovery was one of the worst cases of animal cruelty he had ever seen, describing the situation as “appalling” and “heartbreaking.”
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“This is someone who was entrusted by the community to care for these animals and find them homes,” Lott said. “She betrayed that trust and she betrayed the trust of these innocent animals who relied on her.”
In addition to her role at GROWL, Pennington was also employed at the Kershaw County Humane Society.
In a Facebook post on Friday, the shelter confirmed that Pennington was no longer working there, calling her a “former employee.”
“We were unaware of the former employee’s actions and are truly shocked and heartbroken. Our dedicated staff will continue with our mission to serve the lost and homeless pets of Kershaw County,” the post read.
“The home was in disrepair from general neglect,” Lt. Joe Clarke told local CBS affiliate WLTX. “The surfaces of the floor and the cabinets were covered in fecal matter, there were areas you could tell these animals had urinated. It smelled bad, it’s summer, it’s humid. As we were walking through the home, we kept finding dead animals in carriers… Some were unidentifiable as dogs or cats.”
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In a statement to local NBC affiliate WIS-TV, Pennington’s lawyer, Ally Benevento, called it “an incredibly tragic case with unimaginable horrific allegations.
“It is difficult for anyone to comprehend how someone could allow to happen what happened in this case, but there are some significant and serious mental health issues at play that Ms. Pennington is dealing with,” Benevento wrote.
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