Police have found the woman they believe was taking care of the 40 dead animals pulled last week from an east Columbia home, locating her at another house in Columbia with a large number of animals.
"All of them had sufficient food and water and appeared to be cared for. We didn't have any evidence to cause us to seize those animals."
Meanwhile, no charges have been filed against the woman related to the dead animals found in the first home Jan. 16. Police are continuing to investigate and want to conduct an in-depth interview with the woman, but that has yet to happen, Schroen said.
"We are very interested in speaking with her about the animals and have been encouraging her to come in and speak with us," Schroen said. "It's within her rights not to."
Police are not releasing the woman's name because she has not been charged. However, police left an envelope for "Beth Lindenau" on the front door of the town house in the 9600 block of Lambeth Court.
Lindenau has been listed as the executive director of The Bailey Foundation, an organization with a Columbia mailing address that rescues, rehabilitates and adopts out birds, according to its website. The foundation did not return calls seeking comment.
Officers were called to Lambeth Court on Jan. 16, after the property manager called about odors coming from inside. Animal Control officers subsequently found 19 dead animals in a freezer — birds, rabbits, a guinea pig and a hermit crab, plus another 21 dead animals in cages and loose elsewhere, including birds, cats, rabbits and a snake, police said.
There was no food or water in the cages, nor was it available to those who were loose. While there was pet food inside, it was not accessible to the animals. Also, the power and heat in the house had been turned off.
Four animals — two cats, a bearded dragon lizard and a gerbil — were rescued alive and are still being evaluated. They have not yet been put up for adoption, Schroen said.
Neighbors gave varying timelines for how long the residents had been gone. Police said the residents had been renting the home.
"What we're trying to confirm is who is responsible for caring for the animals," Schroen said. "Was it the person who used to live there? Were the animals placed in someone else's care?"
Evidence from the home has been sent to a laboratory to determine when and why the animals died, she said.
Animal cruelty rare here
Animal abuse and neglect are regulated by both county and state laws.
County Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said she has not heard of any legislation being proposed in response to the recent animal deaths.
On the state level, state Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, is looking to pitch a registry to keep those convicted of abusing animals from having any more, according to television station WJZ. The bill is not connected to the Columbia animal deaths.
The county has an animal matters hearing board, a group of seven appointed members whose duties include hearing cases involving people cited for allegedly violating Animal Control laws. In 2010, that board heard a case involving the director of a nonprofit Columbia animal shelter, dismissing a civil charge against her for allegedly neglecting a dog.
Though not involved with a rescue organization or shelter, two Owen Brown women were convicted of animal cruelty charges after 74 of their cats died in 2006.
Such animal cruelty cases are rare in Howard County, Schroen said.
Missy Zane, who founded and runs the Howard County Cat Club rescue and adoption organization, said the recent case is not representative of what animal rescue groups are like.
"Some people can manage 50 cats, and the cats are all well and healthy and happy and cared for," she said. "Some people can't even manage one."
Her organization presently has 13 cats living uncaged in a Columbia home with a fenced-in yard, she said.
"I'm not taking any more until they get adopted, because I don't want things to fall apart," she said. "I need to think about those cats who did not ask to come to our group home. They were brought there, some against their will. It's my obligation, and our volunteers' obligation, to make sure they're happy and healthy and not stressed."
News of the recent deaths of 40 animals on Lambeth Court saddened her, Zane said.
"These are people who start out with good intentions and want to help the animals," she said. "And they just can't stop."