NORTH HERO, Vt. (WCAX) Having her lawyer speak for her, Ashleigh Tillson, 30, of South Hero, pleaded not guilty to 88 counts of cruelty to animals
According to court papers, Tillson had a verbal rent agreement to live at the South Hero house where investigators found 88 animals inside. Only eight were alive. Investigators say the rest died of malnutrition and heat. Power was cut off for months, turning the metal-sided trailer into an oven.
"There was animals in various stages of decomposition, so it's hard for me to know how long some of them had been in there," said JoAnn Nichols, an investigator with the Chittenden County Humane Society.
Nichols is the lead humane investigator in this case and told WCAX News it was one of the saddest she's ever seen.
"The inside conditions, the health officer deemed the house uninhabitable by humans," Nichols said.
The court papers described more horror: 30 dead animals in a freezer, some too deteriorated to examine.
"There were some ferrets that were nothing left of them but fur and bones," said Dr. Peggy Larson, a veterinarian.
Tillson's ex-boyfriend told police she would ask him for money for bills but he found out she really used it to buy more animals.
In court paperwork, the Grand Isle County sheriff says when he told Tillson how many animals were found, she was more concerned about what the public knew than their welfare.
Thursday in court, Tillson didn't seem fazed. She did not comment as she left the courthouse.
The big question right now is mental health. We've learned Tillson voluntarily spoke to a mental health counselor after the animals were found but before she was interviewed by police. The results of that mental health screening should be available by the end of November. The state will take the results into account as the case progresses.
We also learned Thursday that quicker action by animal control could have made a difference here. Court documents reveal that Tillson's ex-boyfriend called Grand Isle animal control back in May but got no response.