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Police find 40 dead animals in east Columbia home

By David Greisman, dgreisman@tribune.com

9:43 PM EST, January 17, 2012

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Forty dead animals were discovered Monday, Jan. 16 in an east Columbia home whose owner police believe might have been affiliated with a nonprofit animal rescue group. Four other animals were found alive but in poor condition.

Howard County police were called to the 9600 block of Lambeth Court at about 2:30 p.m. after a property manager reported that odors were coming from a town house, according to department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

Animal Control officers found 19 dead animals in a freezer — birds, rabbits, a guinea pig and a hermit crab. Another 21 dead animals were found elsewhere in the home, in cages and loose, police said, including birds, cats, rabbits and a snake.

Investigators said the animals did not have food or water in their cages, nor was it available to those who were able to move around the house, Llewellyn said. While there was pet food in the home, it was not accessible to the animals. In addition, the power and heat in the house had been turned off, she said.

"It appears a person was residing at the location, but based on information from neighbors, no one had been there in more than a week," Llewellyn said.

Police are uncertain how long the animals had been unattended. The home's resident has not been found, though officers are trying to find and interview her. No criminal charges have been filed.

The four animals that were still alive — two cats, a bearded dragon lizard and a gerbil — appeared to be dehydrated and underweight, Llewellyn said.

Neighbors said a family of three lived in the home — one said he thought they had moved at least a month ago, while another said the move happened a couple weeks back. Lawn furniture and a bicycle remained in the fenced-in back yard.

"We were concerned. We knew there were animals in there," said neighbor Robin Thompson, 41, who suspected they were not being looked after.

Thompson said a woman and a man had lived at the home. She said she and other neighbors would often see the couple walking two dogs last fall. After that, she said the man would stop by late, walk the dogs and then leave.

"My concern was the dogs were there 10 and 12 hours by themselves," said Thompson, from her front steps, alongside her neighbor, Frank Smierciak, 40. He said he hadn't seen anyone at the home in four weeks.

Back in October, Thompson said she knocked on the door, but no one answered, yet she heard the dogs barking inside. During the holidays, she said, she was preoccupied and hadn't paid attention to the house. Then on Monday, police cars and animal control vehicles packed onto her street.

"Maybe we should have been proactive," she said. "It's just disturbing."

The home had numerous bird cages inside, said Hanaa, an 11-year-old who did not want to give her last name.

"There was a lot of animals everywhere, and it was real noisy," she said. "It seemed like they kept everything organized."

Anyone with information is asked to call 410-313-7867.

This week's incident was not the first case of numerous animals being removed from Columbia homes.

In 2006, 75 cats were removed from an Owen Brown townhouse; 10 were dead and 50 were so sick they had to be euthanized. The owner of the house later was convicted of animal cruelty.

In 2011, 89 rabbits were rescued alive from a townhouse in Hickory Ridge.

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.