TRENTON, N.J. – Authorities Wednesday were still looking for animals in a feces-ridden mansion in Saddle River after removing at least 23 dead cats and dogs and rescuing dozens more pets.
"Behind a mansion door there's a horror house," said James Lagrosa, head of the Bergen County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "It was the worse I've ever seen in my 18 years of doing this."
According to Lagrosa, a DHL delivery person alerted authorities Tuesday after he smelled a very strong odor coming from the home of Cynthia and Philip Tamis, and worried a body was decomposing inside; the delivery person also noticed through a window numerous animals running around the house.
When authorities arrived and could not find anyone home, Lagrosa said they entered the house and discovered the animals, pet food strewn around the floor and feces soiling every room in the house.
Authorities removed about 80 live cats and six dogs from the house, Lagrosa said; a kitten removed from the house died Wednesday morning. In the garage, he said they found 23 separate plastic bags that contained the remains of dead animals, some so decomposed that authorities could not tell what type of animal they were.
While authorities were removing the animals, Cynthia and Philip Tamis returned home and wanted to know what was going on, Lagrosa said.
A lawyer for the couple, Santo Bonanno, said the couple, who'd lived there for about eight years, had a long history of taking in sick and abandoned animals. But, he said, they were going through severe financial hardships after Cynthia Tamis's personnel business went bankrupt in 2003. The couple had taken out a number of loans to prop up the business, and were eventually forced to sell their home last Friday in a foreclosure auction for $2.6 million, Bonanno said.
"These are true animal lovers," Bonanno said.
The lawyer said animal welfare authorities visited the house two years ago after police, who were there to help Cynthia Tamis remove a large dog that died, became worried about the number of animals in the home. Bonanno said authorities determined the animals were being well-cared for: "Things just got out of hand ... She just fell apart."
Bonanno said the couple, who is currently staying at a motel, is cooperating with authorities, and Cynthia Tamis plans to meet with the prosecutor's office later Wednesday. He said she is also going to be evaluated for depression.
Lagrosa said he intends to file charges against the couple. Meanwhile, he said authorities are still removing animals from the house.