FREEHOLD - A 15-year volunteer with the Monmouth County SPCA was in court today, accused of hoarding 300 dead birds she was supposed to be rehabilitating.
Gretchen Rell, 54, was arraigned on animal cruelty charges and entered a not guilty plea. The prosecutor has offered a plea deal that would include probation, a mental health review, community service and a promise not to care for any more animals.
But, animal rights' activists were not happy with a deal that did not inlcude jail time. "If you kill so many animals and you get off with a slap on the wrist, this is a travesty of justice," says Suzanne Dragan.
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In March, Rell was accused of hoarding the dead birds in her 95-year-old mother's house in Little Silver. The animals were discovered when Rell's brother came to the house for a visit and alerted police. The birds had died from starvation and dehydration, and some were still in their sealed crates.
Rell's attorney, Dennis Melofchik, calls the situation tragic. "My client just got overwhelmed," he says. "She had no intention of doing harm to these animals or birds."
Dragan says she had her suspicions when she asked to see Rell's rehab facility and was told she could not. She says she sent a letter to the SPCA about Rell in January. "It was obvious it was impossible to care for all these animals she was taking in," Dragan says.
Concerns about Rell were reportedly sent to her supervisor, who vouched for her and the topic was dropped. That was until police showed up at the home in March.
Rell has to decide if she wants to take the deal or face trial. If she's found guilty, she could get up to five years in prison.
Gretchen Rell is expected back in court on July 14 with a decision on whether she'll accept the plea offer.