HIGHLANDS COUNTY, Fla. — A volunteer at an animal rescue has been charged with animal cruelty after deputies say that instead of finding homes for animals, she was storing them in an abandoned, squalid home with dead animals.

  • Jinece Elizabeth Loughry, 66, faces 72 counts of animal cruelty
  • Loughry is a volunteer for Hardee Animal Rescue Team
  • She told group she was finding homes for animals she was storing

Highlands County Sheriff's officials charged Jinece Loughry, 66, with 72 counts of animal cruelty after deputies said they found 49 living and 23 dead animals in a 1,002 square-foot home she owned but didn't live in.

Deputies said some of the animals were kept in crates stacked three-high in the house's living room. Others were roaming free in the house, which had no running water. 

Loughry, according to the agency, had not been living in the home since November. The house was also reportedly infested with rats and roaches. 

Some of the dead animals were in such advanced states of decomposition that it's been difficult to determine whether they were cats or dogs.

Among the live animals taken from the home, there were 42 dogs, six cats, and one bird. 

Loughry was reportedly a volunteer for Hardee County-based HART, the Hardee Animal Rescue Team. According to authorities, Loughry had been telling HART that she was finding homes for the animals, but deputies said that instead, she was storing them in the house.

Highlands County authorities got a tip about the home Thursday. After obtaining a search warrant, deputies and Animal Services officers went in.

“There is no excuse for animals to be abused like this,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said in a statement.

"I will be reaching out to the county commission as soon as possible to discuss a county ordinance that would require anyone operating a rescue or serving as a foster home for animals as part of a rescue — even as a volunteer — to register with Animal Services so they can be monitored and inspected on a regular basis," Blackman went on. "We need to make sure something like this horrible tragedy never happens again in our county.”

The county said all the animals taken from the home were transported to HART's facility in Wauchula for treatment. All of them survived the night, and a veterinarian was scheduled to examine them Friday.

The surviving animals will all be made available for adoption through HART. Anyone interested in adopting can call 863-781-2045, or visit hardeeanimalrescueteam.com.