30 dead dogs, cats found in home of South Carolina animal rescue CEO

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30 dead dogs, cats found in home of South Carolina animal rescue CEO

The CEO of a South Carolina animal rescue nonprofit was arrested when police found dozens of dead animals inside her home while investigating a complaint about the “smell of death.”

Caroline Dawn Pennington, the 47-year-old CEO and director of GROWL, was arrested Friday and charged with 30 counts of ill-treatment of animals after officers discovered the bodies of 28 dogs and two cats decomposing in cages inside her home.

Richland County investigators uncovered the revolting scene while performing a wellness check at her house on May 22 after a neighbor reported a “smell of death” wafting from the Columbia residence.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the discovery was one of the worst cases of animal cruelty he’s ever seen.

Animals abuse
The animals were left inside their cage between seven and nine months.
Richland County Sheriff’s Department

“It’s appalling and it’s heartbreaking,” Lott said in a statement. “This is someone who was entrusted by the community to care for these animals and find them homes. She betrayed that trust and she betrayed the trust of these innocent animals who relied on her.”

The animals likely died from starvation and dehydration and are believed to have been dead for a significant amount of time based on the high amount of decomposition, the Richland County Sherriff’s Department said.

A spokesperson for the department said investigators think the dogs and cats had been neglected and alone in the home for up to nine months and died inside their cages.

They were found laying in their own waste, police said.

Pennington is a well-known figure in the animal rescue community in Columbia, South Carolina.

In addition to being the director of the animal rescue GROWL, she was also employed by the Kershaw County Humane Society at the time of the incident.

The organization indicated that she is no longer an employee in a statement.

“We were unaware of the former employee’s actions and are truly shocked and heartbroken,” Kershaw County Humane Society said in a statement. “Our dedicated staff will continue with our mission to serve the lost and homeless pets of Kershaw County.”

Police are also investigating Pennington for possible fraud as GROWL is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department is asking anyone who donated to GROWL in the last year to contact them.

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