An investigation into possible animal cruelty at 1916 Carroll Creek Road began last month after someone called to report cats being kept in cages and not being fed, according to Washington County Animal Control officers.
"At that point, one of our officers actually issued her a citation for cruelty to animals," said Senior Animal Control Officer Randy Buchanan. "I believe at that time the cats in the cages were also dead."
Due to health problems, the elderly woman was unable to go to court on the initial charge, and a judge asked animal control officers to continue an investigation into the conditions of the home.
"Sunday, (Emergency Medical Service) evidently got a call out there and wound up transporting the lady to the medical center," Buchanan said. "Then we got a call from 911 to look inside the house. There was thought to be more animals in there."
Animal control officers, along with members of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, obtained a search warrant for the residence Tuesday.
"We found three cat carcasses in cages. The cats were to the point there was nothing left but skeletons," said Buchanan.
He added that "trash, mounds of feces and filth" covered the inside of the residence.
"If you took all the trash and furnishings out, I wouldn't be surprised if you found more carcasses. What's buried in all this, we just don't know," he said.
Buchanan said he suspects the deceased cats died of starvation.
Two dogs and a cat were found alive at the residence and were taken to the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter.
"If we did not take these steps, do these things and get a search warrant, I'm sure they would have died from starvation too," said Buchanan, who said he has seen only one other case during his 27 years as an animal control officer that he would consider worse than Tuesday's discovery.
"Years ago we did one on Georgia Street. That one is the worst I've ever seen. But this is definitely the second worst," he said.
Several of the cages inside the residence were caked in nearly a foot of animal feces, authorities said.
"It would take, I'd say, six months to a year to get that much feces built up like that," Buchanan said. "We took with us from the home the three taxis that had the carcasses in them, and we took some of the cages that show the amount of feces."
Animal control officers were unable to discover the problem sooner because the elderly woman, said to be in her 80s, "wanted to be left alone" and "never would come to the door" when officers tried to talk to her, Buchanan said.
Buchanan believes the woman's health problems and her age played parts in the animal neglect situation.
"I don't foresee a judge putting an 80-year-old woman in jail for this," Buchanan said. "And you don't really want to see her get prosecuted. You want her to get help to take care of herself. I hope that's what happens."
As of Tuesday afternoon, the woman remained in Johnson City Medical Center. She is scheduled to appear in court next month to answer to the animal cruelty charge.