A Dale City woman who kept dozens of sickly Himalayan cats in her home pleaded guilty to two counts of cruelty to animals and opted to give up ownership of the pets as part of a plea agreement with county prosecutors last week.

Janice Van Meter, 42, of Kenwood Drive, avoided jail time by entering her guilty pleas, accepting a one-year suspended jail sentence and two years of probation, during which time she is not allowed to own or possess any pets, said her attorney, Mark Henshaw.

Prince William County Animal Control officials seized 68 cats--17 of them dead--from Van Meter's home in late April, citing a harsh living environment and a lack of care for the animals.

Henshaw said Van Meter was upset that she would have to give up the cats, which she said she and her family loved.

"She's very dejected and despondent in some ways because her foremost concern was her cats from the get-go," Henshaw said. "She originally got a couple cats and attempted to breed them, and one got ringworm, jeopardizing the others.

"She ended up with 68 cats total, so many that she didn't even know exactly how many she had."

Henshaw said Van Meter intends to own more pets as soon as her probation expires.

When Prince William County police discovered the cats April 28, much of the first floor of Van Meter's home was covered in feces, urine and cat hair. The pungent odor could be detected hundreds of feet from the house. Police officers described the living environment as "overwhelming" and immediately called animal control wardens to the scene.

The cats, according to animal control officials, had been living in torn furniture and in holes in the walls, and most had never been vaccinated.

Gary Sprifke, administrator of Prince William County Animal Control, said several of the cats were infected with ringworm, fleas, maggots, ear mites and internal parasites.

"It was a strange case in that she was diligent in every way as it comes to food and water," Henshaw said.

"She loved them, but she didn't provide the required care under the code."

Henshaw said county officials are working with the Van Meter family to clean up the home.

And the Department of Social Services has been investigating living conditions there to make sure that Van Meter's two children are not in harm's way.

The county's animal shelter yesterday began offering 36 of the surviving cats for adoption--25 adult cats and 11 kittens.

According to the shelter, two kittens had been adopted as of yesterday afternoon, but several interested parties decided not to adopt because of the animals' poor health.