A contractor changing the locks on a house knew something was wrong as soon as he got near it.

Even from outside, the stench was overpowering. The contractor called police, who found a grotesque scene inside.

Beneath a veil of hundreds of flies, there was row after row of cages with the mummified remains of animals, some of which were so badly decomposed that officers had to use wire cutters to peel them from the cages. Animal feces was everywhere; a prosecutor who walked inside the Barnegat Township house wearing a protective suit said "the floor squished" with each step he took.

Piles of bones and fur that might have been a ferret or two were on the floor. And in the freezer, individually wrapped in towels, then tucked away in zip-lock plastic bags, were the bodies of 28 kittens.

By the end of the day, the remains of 68 animals, including dogs, cats and turtles, were found in the home in southern New Jersey where Matthew and Amanda Teymant once lived.

On Monday, Teymant and his wife avoided jail on a plea bargain that will have both of them performing community service after pleading guilty to animal cruelty in the April 2008 case.

A lawyer for the couple said Matthew Teymant was only trying to care for needy animals, but he and his wife became overwhelmed when they had two children of their own. They abandoned the house about seven months before the gruesome discovery.

Prosecutors had sought 364 days in jail for Matthew Teymant.

The verdict angered Sgt. Thomas Yanisko with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who termed the case the worst he had ever seen.

"You knew they were there dead and rotting, and you just do nothing about it?" he asked outside the courtroom after the couple had been sentenced. "You just go on with your life like nothing is happening?"

Teymant, 30, did not speak during the court hearing other than to answer, "Yes, your honor" to a series of procedural questions. But his lawyer, Bradley Billhimer, said Teymant is a caring man who simply got overwhelmed trying to care for too many animals.

"There's not a malicious bone in his body," Billhimer said. "With the birth of his first son, it got to be overwhelming."

Teymant was sentenced to five years' probation and 250 hours community service.

His wife, Amanda, 23, was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program that will result in charges being dropped after 18 months. She must perform 100 hours of community service. Both are not allowed to go near animals as part of their sentences.