Police find 22 dead cats on property

SNELLVILLE - A 57-year-old Snellville woman was jailed on animal cruelty charges after police discovered 22 dead cats and impounded dozens of other cats and dogs roaming around her property.

Officers went to the home at 2673 Hewatt Road about noon Wednesday to investigate neighbors' complaints of a foul odor coming from the residence. Sylvia Simmons allegedly refused to allow them on the property, so investigators obtained a search warrant, said Detective D. Applebee of the Gwinnett County Police Department.

Upon gaining access to the house, officers were greeted with a grisly scene, Applebee said.

They found 19 cat carcasses and the skeletal remains of at least three others scattered about. Nineteen dogs and 25 cats - some indoors, some outside - roamed the property. Simmons also apparently had four flying squirrels and a chipmunk. A dead raccoon in a plastic bag was also found inside a freezer on the back porch.

Investigators also found paperwork showing Simmons had recently adopted about 15 feral cats from a rescue agency.

"Some of the Animal Control officers observed animals feeding on other dead cats," Applebee said. "A lot of them appeared emaciated. The veterinarian on scene was a forensic veterinarian, and she said it appears the cause of death for the cats was starvation or dehydration."

All the live animals were impounded by Animal Control, and some required veterinary attention because of alleged malnutrition and neglect.

On Thursday, the unpainted wooden house sat quietly off a secluded dirt driveway on Hewatt Road. A metal gate warned "no trespassing" and views of the house were largely obstructed by dense foliage.

Authorities said Simmons lived there with her son, who was frequently out of town because he runs a tree service business, and another man who rented an upstairs room. An unidentified man who showed up at the house and unlocked the front gate with a key on Thursday afternoon said he was a friend of the family. He claimed to be unaware of Simmons' arrest or the animals being kept on the property.

When questioned by police Wednesday, Simmons reportedly denied that there were any dead animals.

"She said, 'I'm taking care of the animals - they're all healthy, they're all good,'" Applebee said.

She has since signed over ownership of most of the pets to Animal Control.

Simmons' next-door neighbor, Leang Lim, who moved to Snellville a year ago from Cambodia, said she rarely saw her.

"Nobody (goes) in the house. She closes the gate," Lim said as she peered curiously over the fence. "Yesterday police came with a lot of cars. I don't know what (happened)."

Lim had never noticed a bad odor coming from next door or an abundance of animals.

Applebee said police had been in contact with Simmons several times previously about her pets. About three years ago, neighbors complained about foul smells and Simmons agreed to step up her cleaning efforts.