An alleged cat hoarder living in squalid conditions was suspected of accumulating more than 20 cats in Santa Ana causing disturbances to nearby residences.
Authorities arrived to the home at the 1200 block of West Saint Andrews Place Tuesday morning with a search warrant in hand after a neighbor said she found a dead cat in her backyard last week and became concerned, according to Cpl. Anthony Bertanga from the Santa Ana Police Department.
Mary Lee Edgecomb, 68, didn't allow officers beyond the front room when they responded to the initial complaint. With the search warrant they went back to the home a second time and found 21 cats inside, 18 adults, three kittens.
She was hoarding the cats for at least three years, officials said.
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Photos released by the police department showed the trash-strewn home with several cats sitting atop of soiled furniture. Litter boxes nearly empty of litter were filled with feces while empty cat food jars lay scattered across the floor.
The smell of ammonia was overwhelming and could be smelled a block away from the home, neighbors said.
"The fact that these cats are sick, the conditions they're being forced to live in their own feces and urine," said Sondra Berg of Santa Ana Animal Services. "They're competing for food because there's so many kept in such a small area. If you have 110 cats in a four-bedroom house but you're feeding them all and you're keeping them in separate rooms and everything's clean, you're not breaking the law. But unfortunately she is in this instance."
Hoarding is "the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value," according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The behavior is often very damaging for the hoarder.
Officials said there were other hoarding issues inside the home and the animals may be suffering from continuing health issues.
"They're living in feces... Smell of ammonia creates upper respiratory problems," said Sondra Berg, a supervisor with Animal Services.
Berg said the cats are covered in fleas and are having trouble breathing. There was evidence in the home that Edgecomb tried to feed the felines, but also evidence that she could not keep up.
The cats were turned over to the county shelter to be examined and nursed back to health.
Edgecomb, who neighbors said attends a nearby community college, is now facing animal cruelty charges.