(CBS/AP) MESA, Ariz. - A woman has been found dead in her suburban Phoenix home, where she lived with at least 31 cats.
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Maricopa County sheriff's deputies were forced to wear breathing equipment to enter the residence in Mesa, Ariz., early Tuesday.
They had been called to check on 65-year-old Maria Elena Cimino.
Triple digit temps, oppressive humidity and the protective gear forced the deputies to switch out crews every 15 minutes and have paramedics standing by, reports CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV.
It's unclear how long Cimino had been dead, but authorities say she apparently died of natural causes.
Sheriff's officials say it appears the woman was a hoarder, and the home was in poor condition.
Neighbor Susan Cordovanas told KPHO, "She was a hoarder. So I think this made it harder for those sheriffs," adding conditions inside the house were "very bad," with "feces in the bathtub. Feces all over the house."
But Cordovanas said Cimino "was a really nice lady. I'd like people to know about that."
Neighbor Liva Butler told the station, "She was a nice soul and, you know, who wants to be the bad cop and go turn her in?"
There were at least 11 kittens among the 31 felines, according to KPHO, and two adult cats were found dead.
The sheriff's office and the Humane Society were trying to rescue as many of the 31 feral cats and kittens as possible and decide where to keep them.
Authorities say many are severely underweight and appear to have upper respiratory infections and conjunctivitis.