A 62-year-old woman has been charged with more than 120 counts of animal cruelty after dozens of mostly Siamese cats and some rabbits were found in her two Maryland homes, authorities said.
Montgomery County Police said they charged Laura Louise Prince with 128 animal cruelty offenses for keeping 125 cats and three rabbits at her two homes — one an apartment in the 9800 block of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring and another at a townhouse in the 12000 block of Sweetbough Court in North Potomac.
Animal control officers called it a “difficult case,” citing strong and dangerous levels of ammonia-like odors from cat feces and urine, plus a heavy infiltration of fleas.
“It’s as bad as we’ve seen in Montgomery County,” Montgomery County animal services division director Thomas Koenig said of the conditions of the cats.
At one point, Prince’s home in North Potomac had so many fleas coming out of it that neighbors wouldn’t let children play near it, according to court documents. At times, she tried to sneak cats out of her home in carriers in North Potomac to her apartment in Silver Spring.
In a brief phone call Thursday, Prince declined to comment.
The case started in June when animal control officers from Montgomery County were called for the report of a “cat in distress.” An officer went to the home and found that the cat wasn’t in distress but “detected a strong odor of ammonia.” That prompted the officer to “have concern about the sanitary conditions inside the residence,” police officials said.
When no one answered the door, the officer left a note, but no one responded. Authorities later got in contact with Prince, who owned the home. She said she had eight cats at the home but was out of town.
Officials arranged an “animal welfare inspection” of her home for mid-July, and at that time, they found 75 cats and a rabbit.
An officer described the home as having “overwhelmingly unsanitary and unsafe conditions,” according to police officials. The home was later condemned by the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs as “unfit for human habitation” due to the “odor and the hoarding conditions,” according to police officials and court documents.
As officers continued to investigate, they discovered more cats and rabbits at Prince’s home in North Potomac. The animals there were “infested with fleas to such an extent that it overwhelmed the animals’ normal grooming behavior and that scratching was causing hair loss,” officials said.
Animal control officers also found 50 more cats and two more rabbits at her Silver Spring apartment.
The animals have been treated and are improving, but taking in that many cats has overwhelmed the county’s shelter. Officials said the cats, once healthy, will be available for adoption, and they are working with rescue facilities and shelters to care for them.
Koenig said it was the largest number of animals in such bad conditions that he had seen in his three years at the helm. Prince, he said, did not offer an explanation to investigators why she had so many animals.
Koenig said it is possible that she may have started out breeding the cats and then trying to sell them, but that it “got away from her.” He said having so many cats in confined spaces created an ammonia-like odor of feces and urine that was dangerous for investigators.
At one point, an animal control officer received several bites from fleas inside the townhouse, according to court documents. Koenig also said the flea infestation at the townhouse was “moving to a neighbor’s house.”
The court documents said Prince told an animal control officer that the “conditions inside her home . . . were so bad that she no longer lived there” but just came back to care for the animals. She said she lived at the Silver Spring apartment, which was smaller than 800 square feet.
Prince turned herself in to authorities on Monday. She posted a $2,500 bond and was released.
Officials said Prince pleaded guilty in November 2018 to six counts of animal cruelty and was placed on three years of supervised probation. During her probation she isn’t allowed to have or live with animals, according to officials with Montgomery County Animal Services.
As for the cats, animal services officials said, most were sent to other shelters or rescue groups in the D.C. region. Others were adopted. And “very few” had to be euthanized for “serious medical or behavior issues, according to Koenig.
He said in a recent email that “unfortunately this does happen in cases like this.” Koenig added, “all in all, we did very well in placing these cats.”