A volunteer animal rescuer who kept hundreds of dead birds and other animals in her mother’s Little Silver home pleaded guilty to animal cruelty Monday, according to NJ.com.
At a hearing in Superior Court in Freehold, Gretchen Rell, 56, an Ocean Township resident, admitted she neglected the birds and was responsible for their deaths.
As part of an agreement with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office, a second charge of cruelty contained in an indictment handed down by a grand jury in May was dismissed, the news site reports.
The charges came two months after authorities, acting on complaints by neighbors, entered the home of Rell’s 95-year-old mother, Marie, on Mitchell Place in Little Silver. There, they found more than 300 dead birds and other animals in cages “stacked from floor to ceiling, five feet high,” Monmouth County SPCA Chief Law Enforcement Officer Victor “Buddy” Amato told the Asbury Park Press at the time.
Among the finds were various types of birds, turtles, rabbits, mice, opossums, and other mammals that could not be identified due to the extent of decomposition, authorities said.
Rell, a wildlife coordinator at the Monmouth County SPCA since 1992, was reported to live part-time at the address.
Rell’s attorney told the court that she “just got completely overwhelmed” taking care of her elderly mother, and neglected the birds.
Sentencing is scheduled for September 26.
Assistant Prosecutor Melanie Falco said the plea calls for a period of probation, to be determined by the judge, with conditions including mental health treatment, 30 days community service, a ban from contact with the Monmouth County SPCA and cannot own, live with or take into custody any animals.
Falco also told the judge the plea agreement includes that Rell enter into a consent order, which would prohibit her from owning, living with or taking into custody any animals. Falco said the state wants the order to be a lifetime ban but the defense is expected to argue that it should only be a five-year condition.