VALRICO — Neighbors said the smell of cat urine permeated the air.
The sharp ammonia stung neighbors' noses when they sat poolside. Cats were everywhere, they said. In the yards, on the roofs. They defecated in front yards and screeched through the night.
"We would walk out and smell the cat urine," said James Hancock, 17.
The cats came from next door to the Hancocks, 516 Crowned Eagle Court, where Alice Santy lives. After trying to resolve the issue themselves for more than a year, James' family called Hillsborough County Animal Services for help. Around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, animal services concluded a two-week investigation and removed 19 cats from the house; 11 ailing and eight dead.
Santy, 74, was taken to the Baylife Crisis Center. Officials said she was in poor physical and mental health and was emaciated.
There was no apparent food, and if there was, there was no way to cook it, said animal services investigator Ken Vetzel.
"She's just a rack of bones," said investigations manager Pat Perry. .
"This is a situation that's been building up over the years," Vetzel said.
Santy apparently had long persisted in acquiring things, including cats, and hoarding them in her house. Many items, still in unopened packages, were stacked around the house. The garage was filled about 5 feet high with stuff.
Vetzel said roaches and feces covered the floors. It took officials almost 15 minutes to clear a path into the house from the front door.
The house was condemned.
James Hancock's mother, Deana, said the house has a reputation.
"It's a house of horrors," she said, commenting that the children know not to knock on that door on Halloween.
Santy was at the house alone when officials came, though records show that her husband, James, lives at the Valrico residence.
Perry said it appears to be a case of neglect — of the cats, and of Alice Santy.
The state Department of Children and Families is investigating the woman's physical and mental health status.
The rescued cats are in poor condition. Marti Ryan, spokeswoman for animal services, said most of them are too sick to join the agency's general population for adoption, and there's a "distinct possibility" that some will be euthanized.
Perry suspects there are up to 30 cats still at the property. Many bolted when animal services arrived. Animal services set up humane traps inside and outside.
Times reporter Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Amy Mariani can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.