A South Carolina animal rescue CEO was arrested after police found 30 dead animals inside her home while responding to a complaint about a "smell of death" coming from the residence.
GROWL CEO and director Caroline Dawn Pennington, 47, was arrested Friday and charged with 30 counts of ill-treatment of animals after police discovered 28 dogs and two cats decomposing in crates and cages inside her home.
According to deputies, the animals had been dead for a significant period of time based on the level of decomposition, and appear to have died from starvation and dehydration. The animals were laying in their own waste when the situation was uncovered.
A spokesperson for the sheriff's department said investigators believe the animals were neglected and had been left alone in their cages for seven to nine months before their deaths.
Richland County police found the deceased animals on May 22, when they arrived to perform a wellness check after a neighbor called to report a "smell of death" coming from the home.
Sheriff Leon Lott said this was one of the worst cases of animal cruelty he has ever seen.
"It’s appalling, and it’s heartbreaking," he said, according to WYFF. "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."
Pennington was also employed by the Kershaw County Humane Society, but the organization revealed that she would no longer be working for them.
"We were unaware of the former employee’s actions and are truly shocked and heartbroken," Kershaw County Humane Society said in a statement. "Our dedicated staff will continue with our mission to serve the lost and homeless pets of Kershaw County."
Richland County Animal Control and the sheriff's department worked to remove the animals from the home.
Pennington is also being investigated for potential fraud, given that GROWL is a registered non-profit organization. Anyone who has made documented donations to the organization in the last year is asked to contact the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.