Decomposing cats found in efficiency, woman charged with 18 counts of animal cruelty

(WSVN) - A South Florida woman was known for rescuing cats. But now she’s accused of leaving them alone in horrible conditions. And we want to warn you, some might find pictures in this story disturbing. 7’s Brian Entin investigates.

What happened to at least two dozen cats in this Northeast Miami-Dade efficiency is graphic and horrific.

Decomposing animals and skeletal remains.

Lindsay Donzanti, rescues cats: “No water, no food, no air. This hot weather, and ultimately probably cannibalizing their friends, their brothers, sisters, mothers.”

Miami-Dade Police were called in February about a “very strong foul odor” coming from the home. Inside — they found the dead cats.

7News obtained these pictures that show cat hair, feces, cages and overflowing litter boxes.

Kathleen Labrada, Miami-Dade Animal Services: “This is the worst case for our investigations team of animal neglect and cruelty that we’ve ever seen.”

Animal services removed 15 to 20 dead cats. A few cats were unresponsive and had to be euthanized.

Kathleen Labrada: “The amount of death and decay and filth inside this residence that cats were living in is absolutely beyond belief.”

Police arrested Cheryn Smilen, charging her with 18 counts of animal cruelty.

They say the 53-year-old was renting the unit, and neglected the cats.

A detective wrote, “The condition of this efficiency is absolutely uninhabitable for humans or animals.”

Lindsay Donzanti: “Upset is an understatement.”

What makes this group of cat rescuers so angry is Smilen ran a rescue of her own — and they worked with her.

Arlene Bercun, rescues cats: “I paid her to help me catch the four kittens from the park.”

All the rescuers say Smilen insisted on keeping the cats, promising she would adopt them out.

Brian Entin: “Do you think they ended up here?”

Arlene Bercun: “You know what, I can’t even think about it because I really loved those little kittens.”

Smilen’s group was called Smilen Cats Rescue.

The website says it is “dedicated to the welfare of kittens and cats” and was even accepting donations up until last week, when the site was taken down.

Yatir Nitzany, rescues cats: “I met her hundreds of times. She acted all caring, but apparently she was living a double life.”

If there is any good news, it’s that five of the cats survived and are being cared for at animal services.

But authorities fear the cats found in this efficiency may not be the only ones.

Kathleen Labrada: “There are more cats that Ms. Smilen has somewhere, and someone knows where, so we need someone to come forward.”

If you have any information on the whereabouts of cats connected to Cheryn Smilen or her rescue, authorities ask you call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS.

Smilen did not return our calls and her public defender also is not commenting.


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