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Kids found living with 110 cats in home smeared with urine, feces

December 14, 2011 |  2:01 pm

Five adults in Santa Ana face child endangerment charges after authorities found two girls living in a home filled with 110 cats and smeared with urine and feces.

Orange County prosecutors allege Sharon Howe, 65, and her granddaughter, Courtney Perez, 23, used their Santa Ana home to house unwanted cats, obtaining many of them from animal shelters under the pretense of operating a rescue organization.

Two children, ages 6 and 12, lived in squalid and unsanitary conditions with Howe; Perez; Howe's husband, John Ed Howe, 68; her daughter, Kerri Lynn Howe Moreno, 44; and Moreno’s husband, Jessy Moreno, 41.

Investigators found floors covered with so much urine and feces that two adults had it on their bare feet.

Cat hair, roaches and flies covered many of the surfaces, according to prosecutors. The level of ammonia exposure was such that it could cause respiratory illness, nausea and vomiting.

One of the children slept on a couch, surrounded by cats, and one had scratches from the cats on her arms and legs, prosecutors alleged.

All five adults have been charged with two felony counts each of child endangerment. Sharon Howe and Courtney Perez are charged with an additional felony count of animal cruelty and face a sentence ranging from probation up to eight years in state prison if convicted.

Officers from the Santa Ana Police Department's animal services began investigating the case in February after receiving complaints from neighbors about the foul odor coming from the residence.

The officers, even before entering the home, smelled an intense odor of urine and feces and saw hundreds of live and dead flies congregating around the windows and doors.

So bad were conditions that animal services officers entered the home wearing paper masks, but had to leave after only a few minutes due to feeling ill as a result of the overwhelming smell.

Kerri and Jessy Moreno have since moved out with the two young girls.

Officers captured 110 cats inside the home, many of them feral. More than 20 of the cats had to be euthanized and all of the surviving animals had severe flea infestations.

According to police, half of the cats suffered serious upper respiratory infections, a quarter had ear mites and a quarter had fecal and urinary contamination of their coats.

Authorities claim they needed more than $10,000 worth of treatment. All the surviving cats have been adopted by families or rescue organizations. 

-- Richard Winton