A Morgan Hill woman who has been active in local volunteer animal fostering and rescue efforts over the years is charged with felony animal cruelty after police found more than a dozen dead or neglected cats in her home last summer, according to authorities.
Ava Geddes, 66, faces two felony counts and one misdemeanor in relation to the feline corpses and unhealthy animals allegedly found in a June 2020 search of her home by the Morgan Hill Police Department.
Specifically, she is charged with felony animal cruelty for nine dead cats found in her east Morgan Hill home, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Vishal Bathija. Geddes is also charged with a felony count of animal cruelty and misdemeanor neglect in relation to seven surviving felines found during the same search.
Geddes is out of custody on her own recognizance, Bathija said. Her next court appearance is scheduled for March 4 at the San Jose Hall of Justice, for a “felony advanced resolution” that could lead to a negotiated plea deal.
Morgan Hill police visited Geddes’ home June 18, 2020, when a friend of hers called MHPD to request a welfare check because the friend had not heard from Geddes for an unusual length of time, according to police investigative reports.
When Officer Eddy Gutierrez arrived at Geddes’ home to check on her, he discovered a wasteland of cat carcasses, flies swarming throughout the residence and a pungent odor of cat urine and feces that could be smelled from outside. “I was able to locate an unlocked door leading into the residence’s garage,” Gutierrez wrote in his investigative report. “When I opened the door, I immediately smelled a potent scent of urine (ammonia), and I saw more stacked animal kennels with dead cats by the door.”
Geddes eventually exited the home and appeared to be ill, according to police. Her friend transported her to a hospital.
Gutierrez called MHPD Animal Control Officer Tommy Coreas to the scene, and obtained a search warrant to seize the animals, police reports say.
Once inside the home, officers found more cages with cat corpses in various stages of decay, as well as feces, urine, fur and other debris on the floor, furniture and countertops throughout the home, the police report describes. Some living cats encountered inside the home appeared to be malnourished and scared of the officers. Many of the kennels did not appear to have receptacles for food or water for the animals.
Authorities determined the interior of the home was likely hazardous, and officers had to strip out of their patrol gear and change into hazmat suits with respirator masks, the police report says. Fire officials advised the officers not to spend more than 15 minutes at a time inside the residence, as prolonged exposure to the animal waste fumes and sweltering summer heat could be harmful.
A city code enforcement officer arrived after police made entry and “yellow tagged” the residence, deeming it uninhabitable, the police report adds.
Gutierrez admitted in his investigative report that he was “startled” when he peered into the garage to see numerous kennels—some with living cats and others containing dead felines—with no ventilation, water or food.
Once inside the garage, Gutierrez describes having to carefully step around “feces, carcasses, litter boxes, cages, kennels, clothes and shelves” to get inside the main residence, the police report says.
Inside the home, officers observed “indescribable” living conditions, according to the report. “Every single inch of the floor was covered in layers of feces, litter, trash, cats in different stages of decomposition,” Gutierrez wrote in his report.
On their way upstairs, officers “yielded in [their] tracks by a hill of feces” on a landing, Gutierrez’ report continues. An upstairs bathtub was allegedly filled with dead cats. Some carcasses in a guest bedroom were so decayed that only skeletons remained.
All told, officers recovered seven living cats, which were transported to an animal shelter. They say they also recovered nine cat corpses for evidence.
MHPD sent the case to the DA, resulting in the current charges against Geddes.
Geddes is out of custody without any restrictions on further contact with cats or animals. Bathija said if Geddes is convicted, he will ask the judge to prohibit her from owning or caring for cats as part of her sentence.
Bathija added that MHPD is conducting “continuing investigation” into claims that Geddes has attempted to rescue or acquire more cats since she was charged with the animal abuse allegations in June.
Geddes has been known in Morgan Hill as a supporter of stray animal care, and is a former board member of a nonprofit that supports the San Martin Animal Shelter and the county’s adoption programs. She has spoken at city council meetings in favor of more funding for the animal shelter’s spay/neuter efforts, and made a presence on social media in recent years as a rescuer of stray cats.
Geddes’ attorney, Josh Jachimowicz, said in a statement that Geddes has “been a responsible pet caretaker and animal advocate over the past 20 years.”
He added:“During this time she became known for taking in, caring for and finding homes for stray cats. Unfortunately, for many understandable reasons, she became overwhelmed with the magnitude of this charitable task and found herself unable to provide for the animals in the manner that she had hoped.”
She is not currently taking in stray animals and “strives to ensure no harm comes to any animals in the future,” Jachimowicz added.