After the sturdy, two-story brick Chatham house was foreclosed on for a second time last summer, they noticed that the female renter had moved out, but the animals she cared for -- at least seven dogs and three cats -- remained inside, often perched in the front picture window.
But in recent weeks, the ever-present pets stopped popping up in the window, their constant barking fell silent and the renter, who they say showed up every few weeks to feed the animals, had stopped dropping by.
The last straw for neighbor Karen Truitt came Tuesday when she caught a sickening whiff outside of the home and saw a swarm of flies outside a second-floor window. After two failed attempts by Truitt and two neighbors to get police involved, they flagged down two patrol officers, who had fire officials help force entry into the home.
Inside, among mounds of animal feces and discarded belongings, city Animal Care and Control officers rescued three emaciated and dehydrated dogs: a Chihuahua, a Chinese crested and a pit bull terrier. A severely malnourished Rottweiler/Doberman pinscher mix was found in the garage.
Also in the sweltering house were the bodies of three long-dead dogs. Despite early reports that two dead cats were recovered, animal workers said the cats were unaccounted for.
"I'd never seen anything like it before," said Truitt, recalling the moment a police officer raised a rear window, allowing a peek inside the home.
"It was just so bad, it made your eyes water," she said.
By Wednesday, city crews had returned to remove the remaining animal corpses, while Chicago police investigated possible animal abuse.
Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Cherie Travis condemned what she called preventable neglect of the pets.
"It's hard for me to imagine how that could have happened. Clearly, Animal Care and Control is open for people to bring in unwanted animals or animals that people no longer care for," Travis said. "So for any person to starve a dog or a cat or a rabbit or anything, there's no explanation for that."
Animal control veterinarians would examine both the living and dead animals to gather evidence for the police investigation, Travis said.
The former tenant at the address referred questions to her attorney, Scott Sherwin, who denied any wrongdoing.
"Based on the information that I have so far, she's not responsible for the condition of the house or the animals," Sherwin said.