A South Carolina woman who ran an animal rescue is facing cruelty charges after officers found 30 dead cats and dogs in her home.
Deputies performed a welfare check on the home of Caroline Dawn Pennington, 47, on May 22 after receiving calls about a “smell of death” at the residence in Columbia, Richland County Sheriff’s Department said in a release shared with PEOPLE.
Upon their arrival, they were able to confirm the horrid smell and went inside the home.
“They found a disturbing and extreme case of animal cruelty,” the release said. Inside, there were 28 dogs and 2 cats that had been decomposed and kept inside cages and crates.
According to the sheriff’s office release, “The animals had been deceased for a significant amount of time and, based on the circumstances, appeared to have died from starvation and dehydration. They were lying in their own waste and it is believed that they died in the cages and had not been moved prior to being discovered.”
Sheriff Leon Lott said that he’s never seen an animal cruelty case this alarming.
“It’s appalling and it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “This is someone who was entrusted by the community to care for these animals and find them homes. She betrayed that trust and she betrayed the trust of these innocent animals who relied on her.”
Deputies took the animals from the home with the help of Richland County Animal Control.
After turning herself in Friday, Pennington was booked at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. She has been charged with 30 counts of Ill-Treatment of Animals. She went before a judge and was released on a $75,000 bond on the condition she wear an ankle monitor, according to ABC 15.
Pennington was the CEO and Director of an animal rescue GROWL and is also very well-known in the animal rescue community. Authorities told ABC that she was not an employee with the non-profit as of Thursday, and urged those who have donated money to GROWL in the last year to contact the sheriff’s department.
She was also employed by the Kershaw County Humane Society, according to authorities.
“At this time, to KCHS’ knowledge, her charges also do not involve any animals from the Kershaw County Humane Society, but KCHS will continue to research and work with law enforcement on this case,” Jamie Woodington told WAFB9.
She said that the humane society didn’t know about Pennington’s charges until Friday. Woodington herself had resigned as KCHS’s president the day before, for personal reasons.
Added Woodington: “Everyone at KCHS is very distraught and appalled at the charges levied on Ms. Pennington. Our sole mission is to care for all the animals that come in our doors.”
KCHS and GROWL did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
It is not clear if Pennington has a lawyer to make a statement on her behalf.
30 dead animals? You know it smelled absolutely insane in there.