Howard County police are searching for a Columbia woman who may be associated with an animal rescue group after officers discovered 40 dead animals inside her home.
Police have not identified the occupant of the townhouse in the 9600 block of Lambeth Court, where officers were called Monday afternoon when a property manager reported odors coming from the home.
Animal control workers discovered 19 dead animals inside a freezer, including birds, rabbits, a guinea pig and a hermit crab, police said. Officers found 21 more birds, cats, rabbits and a snake inside cages and loose in the home with no food or water.
Police, who are trying to find the townhouse's occupant, said she may have been involved with a nonprofit animal rescue group. No charges have been filed, and the nonprofit was not named by police.
Neighbors told police that no one had been at the home for more than a week; police said it is unclear how long the animals had been unattended.
"We were concerned. We knew there were animals in there," said neighbor Robin Thompson, 41, who suspected they were not being looked after.
Pet food was inside the home, but it was not accessible to the caged and roaming pets, investigators said. Power and heat in the home had been turned off, police said.
Four live animals — two cats, a bearded dragon lizard and a gerbil — were taken by animal control officials and are being treated by a veterinarian. Police said they appeared dehydrated and underweight.
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."
"It's kind of odd for me. I'm unpacking and a bunch of cop cars pull up," said Michael Ferris, 26, who recently bought the townhouse next door to the one where the animals were found. "I thought it was a body."
From his wooden deck, the neighboring yard looked neat and the curtains were pulled shut behind the basement's sliding glass doors.
But Ferris worried that the news might upset his wife, who has yet to relocate from North Carolina. They've been living apart for the past year, and bought a house in the suburbs to start their family.
"I don't know what to tell the wife," he said.
As TV crews recorded for evening newscasts outside the townhouse, Steve Stolte, 37, was passing by with his 1-year-old son, Luke, in his arms.
"It's crazy," he said. "We walk by here all the time. It's weird something like this could happen."
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call 410-313-STOP.