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23 cats, 10 people found living in Santa Ana house

October 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A foul smell led Santa Ana authorities to a house packed with 10 people and dozens of cats on Tuesday. A hazmat team was brought in to deal with the filth and the fumes.

Authorities received a complaint about a smell coming from the home on the 1500 block of West 6th Street at about 9 a.m. When officers arrived, the smell of ammonia was so strong, they backed out and called a hazmat team.

"One room has nothing but cats in it, a lot of feces, a lot of urine, the smell of the room was really bad," said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.

Officers were forced to wear protective clothing before entering one of the bedrooms. Police say urine, feces and litter were festering in the 100-degree heat, and there was so much of it that it was hard to open the door.

"The floors are saturated with urine and garbage, and the garbage and stuff is so wet and heavy, it's stuck to the floor," Santa Ana Animal Services supervisor Sondra Berg said.

Crews were seen taking animals out of the house and loading them into vehicles. There were 23 cats, one dog and an African grey parrot in the 900 square-foot, two-bedroom house.

Ten people were also living in the house, including eight children between the ages of 2 to 17 -- one of which was a pregnant 16-year-old girl. Bertagna said investigators have been sent to visit the children's schools.

"They're breathing this on a daily basis, so it contributes to upper respiratory infections, lung infections, pneumonia," Berg said.

But the 17-year-old who lives at the home insisted that the police response was an exaggeration.

"They like making a big deal out of it. It's just a couple cats," Cesar Salgado said.

Salgado says the children never went into the cat room, and the door was always locked.

"They were never playing in that room. It was only my aunt that was taking care of them," he said. "My aunt would go in there and clean up."

Salgado says his aunt started taking in a few cats about a year ago, but then those cats had babies. The most recent was a litter of five, born about a week ago.

Police say they believe the owner thought she was doing something to help the animals until it became too much for her to handle.

"Hoarding is a mental illness, so what starts out to be a good deed to try and save some animals and do a good thing gets out of control," Berg said.

The animals will be taken to an animal shelter to be treated and cared for. Code enforcement officials also responded to the home and red-tagged it. As for the children, child protective services placed them with family members. They will not take them into custody while they investigate the child endangerment allegations.

Santa Ana police will submit their report to the district attorney's office for animal cruelty charges against the two adults living in the home.

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