NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – A South Florida woman accused of animal abuse is heading to trial after investigators said dozens of cats died after she left them behind in her home in North Miami Beach.
"If we hadn't been here to represent our animal community, the judge could have just said, 'Probation for killing these 30 cats,'" Michael Rosenberg, president of Miami-Dade Pets Trust, said.
A passionate crowd showed up in court Wednesday to provide testimony against the former animal rescuer accused of starving cats to death.
Cheryn Smilen, 54, faces 20 counts of animal cruelty and five counts of animal confinement after police discovered dozens of starved cats inside an efficiency unit last February.
Many of the cats were dead. The ones that survived were living in hot, filthy conditions with no food or water, authorities said.
Smilen's public defender argued Wednesday that Smilen's mental state should be taken into consideration.
"She does require specialized treatment for mental health," the attorney said in court.
Smilen's attorney also said Smilen needs to be around to take care of her 93-year-old mother.
But state prosecutors said that's no excuse
Smilen's arrest form includes a description of the crime scene and states, "The odor was horrific and unbearable. [The] detective observed cat feces, urine, decomposition and cat body fluid inside the efficiency."
"An example needs to be made out of her," animal rescuer Yatir Nitzany said.
Animal welfare advocates are outraged as they said Smilen used to be active in their rescue community.
They said she claimed to be devoted to cats and kittens and even ran a cat adoption website.
"These cats were in there starving, and what they were put through, the agonizing pain, it's just unacceptable," Nitzany said.
The animal lovers' voices were not falling on deaf ears Wednesday as the judge ultimately decided that the case will move forward to trial.