updated 3/30/2009 2:00:35 PM ET 2009-03-30T18:00:35

A contractor changing the locks on a southern New Jersey house knew something was wrong as soon as he got near it.

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Even from outside, the stench was overpowering. The contractor called police, who found a grotesque scene inside.

Beneath a veil of hundreds of flies, there was row after row of cages with the mummified remains of animals, some of which were so badly decomposed that officers had to use wire cutters to peel them from the cages. Animal feces was everywhere; a prosecutor who walked inside the Barnegat Township house wearing a haz-mat suit said "the floor squished" with each step he took.

Piles of bones and fur that might have been a ferret or two were on the floor. And in the freezer, individually wrapped in towels, then tucked away in zip-lock plastic bags, were the bodies of 28 kittens.

By the end of the day, the remains of 68 animals, including dogs, cats and turtles, were found in the home where Matthew and Amanda Teymant once lived.

On Monday, Teymant and his wife avoided jail on a plea bargain that will have both of them performing community service after pleading guilty to animal cruelty in the April 2008 case.

A lawyer for the couple said Matthew Teymant was only trying to care for needy animals, but he and his wife became overwhelmed when they had two children of their own. They abandoned the house about seven months before the gruesome discovery.

Sentencing
According to the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Michael Abatemarco had sought 364 days in jail for Matthew Teymant as a condition for his probation.

The verdict angered Sgt. Thomas Yanisko with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who termed the case the worst he had ever seen.

"You knew they were there dead and rotting, and you just do nothing about it?" he asked outside the courtroom after the couple had been sentenced. "You just go on with your life like nothing is happening?"

Teymant, 30, did not speak during the court hearing other than to answer, "Yes, your honor" to a series of procedural questions. But his lawyer, Bradley Billhimer, said Teymant is a caring man who simply got overwhelmed trying to care for too many animals.

"There's not a malicious bone in his body," Billhimer said. "With the birth of his first son, it got to be overwhelming."

Superior Court Judge Barbara Ann Villano sentenced Teymant to five years' probation and 250 hours community service.

His wife, Amanda, 23, was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program that will result in charges being dropped after 18 months. She must perform 100 hours of community service. Both are not allowed to go near animals as part of their sentences.

Villano said she didn't agree with Abatemarco that incarceration was called for, according to the Asbury Park Press. The judge cited letters from Teymant’s neighbors and friends about the man’s lack of a criminal history and lack of malfeasance in parenting his two sons in explaining her decision, the paper reported.

Villano acknowledged the horrific scenario discovered in the Teymant home before she imposed her sentence.

"I understand the scene was grim beyond belief, gruesome,'' she said.

"In an effort to be everyone's answer and everyone's responder and healer, you became everyone's torturer,'' Villano told Matthew Teymant in imposing the sentence.

His work with animals
Billhimer said Teymant volunteered with the Toms River First Aid squad since he was a teenager; his mother would take him to ambulance calls because he wasn't old enough to drive.

He rose to the rank of captain of the squad, and eventually became a dispatcher with the Toms River police department — a post he had to forfeit last month as part of the plea deal.

Teymant took part in a 4-H program's dog obedience program and served as a judge in small animal contests.

He was licensed as an animal breeder, and ran a hedgehog rescue program. He also served as a show judge for the International Hedgehog Association.

But his own children cut into his time with his animals. His first son was born two years ago; a second came 10 months ago.

Problems with their house, including a sewage backup, made the couple decide to move out, their lawyer said.

By that time, most of the animals in their care were already dead, Yanisko said.

The dead animals included cats, dogs, turtles, hamsters and possibly a ferret or two.

"Why possibly?" Yanisko asked. "The animals were so badly decomposed it was impossible to tell."

The Associated Press and Asbury Park Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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