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Deputies find 'gruesome' animal cruelty in Norcross

Photo by Picasa 3.0

Photo by Picasa 3.0

NORCROSS -- Records indicate a Norcross woman accused of leaving her dogs and cats in a disturbing state of filth and starvation has a background in animal care -- and in thieving animal medication.

Sheriff's deputies serving an eviction notice Tuesday night at the Highland Lakes apartments near Peachtree Corners found a scene described by one official as "gruesome."

The Ashley Lakes Drive apartment, rife with animal waste, housed two flea-ridden, starving Bullmastiff dogs, a cat, and the partially devoured body of another cat -- eaten in an effort by the other animals to survive, officials said.

"The animals were in such bad shape that deputies could count every single bone in one of the dog's bodies," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais.

The tenant, Suzy Lugo, 29, was not home, but neighbors said she stops by daily to retrieve her mail, Bourbonnais said.

Lugo is charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals, and three misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals. She has worked as a veterinary technician in recent years, according to jail records and a former colleague. She remained at large Wednesday.

Bourbonnais said residents of the complex had not complained of the apartment's state. A representative at Highland Lakes said the situation is being looked into, but declined further comment.

Lugo was being evicted for failing to pay monthly rent of $688, court records show.

A representative of Animal Eye Specialist in Marietta confirmed that Lugo had worked as a veterinary technician there until roughly two years ago, when she found employment elsewhere.

Lugo's criminal record in Gwinnett includes a 2006 arrest for theft by taking. According to an indictment, she'd stolen pet medication and cash in 2002 from a business called "Luv My Pet."

The confiscated animals continue to be under veterinary care but are expected to survive, said Gwinnett police spokesman Officer Brian Kelly.

The animals are underweight and malnourished, he said.

Owners have 60 days to indicate if they wish to pursue or relinquish custody of confiscated animals. After that time period, animals are put up for adoption, Kelly said.

In animal cruelty cases, a judge ultimately decides the disposition of animals.

"In cases like this, the animal can be considered 'evidence,'" he said.