LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- Investigators moved in on a Lake Worth home Tuesday to rescue 23 cats from what they're calling tragic 'animal hoarding.'
Workers with Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control arrived at a home on North B Street around 7 p.m. and worked into the night sifting through filth to find animals in bad shape.
In total they found 23 cats alive and the skeletal remains of two inside the home. What they didn't find was the home's owner.
Neighbors say they suspect the hoarding has been going on for years, but didn't know for sure.
Outside of the house, a sign read, "Please do not disturb."
For years, neighbors say they've smelled a disturbing odor when they walked by the home.
"I always noticed a strong smell coming from the general direction," said Tom Walls who lives nearby. "I wasn't sure what it was."
Walls used to live next door to the woman, who has not been identified by authorities, and he said he always thought something was suspicious.
He said her car was piled with junk, but she still found a way to drive it.
With hazmat suits and masks on, animal control workers went into the home and pulled out the cats.
Some of the cats that were moved out of the home have skin disease and upper respiratory infections, Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve said.
"It's quite a shock to know that someone who was living so close had a serious problem," Walls said of his neighbor.
Every time animal control workers opened the door, neighbors covered their nose from across the street.
Investigators say feces, trash and hundreds of roaches were found throughout the house.
"That's completely unsanitary," Walls said. "It's a hazard to the neighborhood."
Workers say they first heard about the problem this weekend when a neighbor smelled the terrible odor and other people allegedly took out other animals in the home.
"One of the concerns that we have is how anyone could go in such a deplorable situation and remove some animals, but not others," Sauve said.
For cat owners like Walls, watching so many cats come out in such bad shape just breaks his heart.
"It's just tragic because I give mine all the love and attention I can," he said.
Sauve said now the challenge is finding the woman who lives inside the home.
Investigators believe she's in the hospital and she could be facing animal cruelty charges.
Animal care and control workers are also looking for the unidentified people who allegedly went into the home and took out animals over the weekend and didn't report the deplorable conditions to authorities.