Charges against a family accused of hoarding more than 100 cats are dropped after search warrant procedures failed. Five people faced three years in prison for animal cruelty and child endangerment until a judge threw out the case this week. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2013.
A Santa Ana grandfather spoke out Wednesday after his family escaped animal cruelty charges prompted by the 2011 discovery of more than 100 cats living inside of their Baker Street home.
John Howe said he wished intervened when his wife and granddaughter brought home one rescued cat years ago.
"It became obsession," Howe said. "It became two cats and then it just got away from us."
In February 2011, animal control officials believed they had the right to go inside of the home because the cats were in danger, but a police officer overruled them and waited three hours to get a warrant.
During the search, animal control officials found more than 100 cats sharing the three-bedroom house with five adults and two children.
All five adults were charged with child endangerment and faced three years in prison -- until this week.
A judge threw out the case on Tuesday and ruled the three-hour wait meant the situation was not an emergency, and anything they found inside could not be used as evidence against them.
"The cruelty to animals and the child endangerment didn’t go away, but we have to respect the decision of the judge," said Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Neighbors said they could smell the stench from the home a block away, but Howe felt the well-being of his family was not in danger.
"I was not worried about their health, but maybe I should have been," Howe said. "That’s my fault. It comes down on me that I didn’t do anything."
Howe defended his grandchildren were clean, clothed and cared for while the cats were in the home, but admits he should have made more of an effort to put an end to the hoarding.
"Could I have done things a lot differently? Yes," Howe said. "I could have thrown the cats out the front door and told (my wife), 'No, we’re not doing it anymore.'"
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