Marlene Kess, who has built a reputation in Manhattan as a caretaker of homeless and dying cats, had 48 cats inside her house, including 38 in one room, authorities said.
Two-hundred vermin-infested cat corpses were stuffed into rubbish bags and apparently were to be buried in a large hole that had recently been dug, said Sgt Joseph Bierman of the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
The state agency is continuing to investigate what caused the cats’ deaths, SPCA spokesman Matt Stanton told The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. Ms Kess told reporters that all the cats died of natural causes. “I take very good care of them. People who know me know there’s no cruelty involved,” she said.
The cats were discovered after neighbours complained about the stench.
Ms Kess, 56, is the founder and executive director of Kitty-Kind, which runs one of New York City’s few no-kill shelters.
She was cited for health code violations, including keeping an unlawful number of animals, harbouring dead animals and causing an environmental hazard.
The SPCA charged Ms Kess with 38 counts of failing to properly shelter cats.
Authorities are allowing Ms Kess to keep the 48 cats in her home because she promised to separate the sick animals from the healthy ones, Bierman said.