A retired school teacher who owned three Santa Ana properties but apparently slept in a pickup truck was found dead on the porch of one of her homes with a kitten in a carrier in her lap, surrounded by dozens of other cats that lived at the overgrown property, police said today.
Rita Corpin, 72, died of natural causes, according to the coroner's office, which did not specify the cause of death. A gardener spotted her body on the porch of her primary residence in the 1400 block of S. Rosewood Ave. and called police on Tuesday night, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
Because the cats are feral, they scattered when firefighters and police showed up, he said, adding that Santa Ana animal control officers returned today to set traps. Once captured, the felines will be turned over to OC Animal Care, the countywide agency.
Two dogs also were found on the trash-strewn grounds. Because the property was so cluttered and overgrown, it took police two or three hours to clear away two vehicles and vegetation to remove the body, Bertagna said.
Corpin's brother, who lives in Santa Ana, showed up at the property as authorities removed the body, and told police and reporters that his sister was an animal lover who would be greatly missed.
Corpin taught world history at Westminster's La Quinta High School, part of the Garden Grove Unified School District, for about 40 years before retiring.
Bertagna said the city's animal control division received a half-dozen complaints about stray animals on the Rosewood property over the past decade. Any complaints about the condition of the property, he said, would have been handled by a different city department.
Corpin owned two other homes, but apparently lived in a truck found outside the Rosewood home "because of the condition of the house," Bertagna said.
No animals were found at her other two homes, but a neighbor at one of those properties said Corpin showed up every day to leave cat food in bowls. He told reporters he had complained to the city about the condition of the home she owned next to him and inspectors had shown up on more than one occasion, but conditions never improved.
Most cities allow three cats and three dogs on one property, but the rules vary city to city. The county limits one person to three cats and three dogs. Permits are needed to exceed that number.
Bertagna has seen quite a few cases of animal hoarding. In the latest case, he said, "I think she had a love for animals and, unfortunately with hoarders, it grows and grows and eventually the person loses control."
Ryan Drabek of OC Animal Care said animals taken from hoarders are typically in poorer health and euthanized at higher rates.
He recalled the 2013 case of a Garden Grove woman who had about 100 dead and living cats on her property. A freezer was found jam-packed with dead cats, and the woman had been investigated for animal hoarding in 2006, when she was found with about 150 cats, along with a few rabbits, birds and a turtle.
"When you start getting up there in numbers, just cleaning up after them becomes a challenge," Drabek said.
— City News Service