Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 20, 2010

When Too Many Is Too Much: A Hoarder in My Neighborhood

Posted at 08:59AM - Comments: (8)

My neighbor’s house was condemned this week, declared a public health threat. Unbeknownst to the rest of us, she’d been hoarding animals. It made no sense. How could none of us know? How could it happen “here” in our bucolic neighborhood—a rural, picturesque area with large upscale homes surrounded by pastureland and horse farms? A helicopter hovering literally above my house made me realize that something was very wrong.

When Too Many Is Too Much

When Too Many Is Too Much

In this case, a single woman in her 40’s lived “alone” in a once-lovely, half-million-dollar brick home. By the time authorities intervened, gaining access to her house only after securing a search warrant, she had amassed 113 cats, 14 dogs, 23 dead cats, and 1 dead dog. She was living in squalor, and the only reason she was discovered was that an observant neighbor, after smelling foul smells on and off, went to investigate. He stumbled upon crated cats left on her driveway, and quickly called authorities. That, as it turns out, was only the tip of the iceberg.

Authorities said feces and trash filled the rooms. Seven officers, clad in haz-mat suits and respirators, worked through the night to empty the house of the animals, most of whom were suffering from dehydration and other medical problems.  I am grateful to these people who worked so hard on behalf of these animals.

But I am also ashamed. Ashamed because I didn’t know. I live a stone’s throw away, and have done virtually everything in my power to give my own dogs a good life, yet so many animals so close to me were suffering horribly. I remind myself that the dogs and cats were all living inside her enormous, brick house, so how could I know? I do not personally know her, have never met her, and dense woods separate us. Her house is not visible from the road. It’s set far back down a gravel driveway, hidden by a thick growth of woodland.

I’m mad, too. So many animals suffered. Some have already been euthanized, and my guess is there are many more to follow. Our county’s animal shelter is already strained in this horrible economy; how can it be expected to cover vetting, housing, and feeding of so many animals? The shelter director estimates that it’s costing taxpayers more than $1,200 a day to do so.

What are the other costs to our community? The hoarder is awaiting a court appearance. Who pays for that? Who pays for the cleanup of the home? Who pays if the house must be razed? Who pays for her rehabilitation? The recidivism rate for hoarders, they say, is 100 percent if not treated.

Tragically, a local volunteer humane society had placed many cats with this woman for fostering. They “inspected” her home in June . . . but neglected to go inside the house. They have since been shut down, at least temporarily.

The once lovely home has been condemned. Today, a no trespassing sign hangs across the drive.

My only take away, right now, is that we need to pay attention, to be aware of our surroundings. If we see physical signs that something’s not right, and have that feeling in our gut that something’s not right, we’d do well to investigate, and call authorities if necessary. Hoarding is everywhere, folks. My world is still rocking as I process this horrific turn of events. What would you do if you suspected a hoarder in your midst?

Lisa Rodier is a frequent contributor to WDJ.

Comments (8)

Sadly, there are some rescue groups that operate this way. I went into someone's mobile home that ran a 501 (3) C rescue group. The place smelled awful and the dogs were running everywhere with feces and urine smells everywhere. The neighbors had called and complained due to the barking. I foster for a rescue but I refuse to foster more than one at a time because its not fair to my neighborhood and my other dogs I own to do it any other way. I'm still prevailed upon to do MORE, foster more. I love and adore dogs, but I refuse to hoard animals. Its not fair to their needs. WHat needs to happen in this country is Mandatory spay and neutering with licenses granted only to breeders who show the animals and breed for the improvement of breed standards with veterinarian monitoring. These licenses would cost much more but could be tax deductible as showing and licensed breeding is a legitimate business. All other dogs and cats need to be spayed and neutered. End of story. It has gotten way out of control, if rescue organizations are this strapped, that they have to hoard animals with little or no money coming in. As a nation, we need to do something or else animal neglect, abuse and hoarding will continue to be a huge problem and it is. Tax deductions need to be available to rescue organizations (501 (3) C to properly care for the animals they take in and provide to foster homes. Yes, veterinary care is getting expensive and it costs money to control fleas, ticks, parasites monthly as well as feed and water the animals in a safe shelter. I think penalties need to be paid by unlicensed or backyard breeders, puppy farms, mills or what have you. These penalties need to be reinvested into rescue organizations that are active in finding homes for the dogs and cats or other pets in the rescue. Too many are stuck with animals who noone wants because they are elderly, have medical needs or so forth. This is due to non spaying and neutering of animals and people's impulsiveness when selecting pets. It drives me nuts when people ignore the older dogs and always want to adopt puppies or kittens. The older dogs and cats are treated with disdain by many people and ignored.

Posted by: Helen F | April 3, 2011 10:31 PM    Report this comment

YET ANOTHER COMMENT. THE SOVIET UNION GOT SO MUCH BAD PR FROM IMPRISONING PEOPLE AND VIOLATING THEIR CIVIL RIGHTS THAT THEY CHANGED FROM CRIMINAL "VIOLATIONS" TO MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS. SAME PEOPLE WERE IMPRISONED FOR "ILLNESS" PROBLEMS, IN THE SAME CAMPS. SOMEONE WHO IS "MENTALLY ILL" CAN BE TREATED VERY HARSHLY IN USA AND ELSEWHERE BECAUSE YOU ARE "HELPING THEM", AND "HOARDING" IS THE NEW MENTAL ILLNESS OF CHOICE.JUST BECAUSE IT IS ON OPRAH DOESN'T MAKE IT RIGHT. LOOK AT PICTURES OF RETIRED SUP. CT. JUSTICE DAVID SOUDERS HOME ON INTERNET - CLEARLY NEEDS AN INTERVENTION BY KINDLY GOV. OFFICIAL, PERHAPS SOME LOCK UP TIME TOO. AND I DO THINK MOST DOGS WOULD RATHER BE IN AN OVERCROWDED HOME WITH FOOD AND WATER RATHER THAN BE EUTHANIZED. PERHAPS YOU COULD BE PUT DOWN SO YOU WON'T SUFFER IN A MEDIOCRE NURSING HOME? MOST HOARDERS I SEE TRY THEIR BEST, ALTHOUGH THE RESULTS ARE NOT THE PERFECTION THAT WEALTHY AMERICA DEMANDS.

Posted by: J. E | October 19, 2010 12:11 AM    Report this comment

"an observant neighbor... went to investigate. He stumbled upon" This starts with a nosy neighbor who trespasses, probably breaking criminal laws as well as committing a tort, being twisted into the above description and we should take the rest of the "facts" at face value? I don't think so. He didn't "stumble upon" anything. He trespassed and invaded another person's property and privacy with no authority whatsoever and then whipped authorities into a frenzy for whatever neighborly nastiness might actually underlie this situation. There's WAY too much of exactly this type of hype going on out there.

The lack of objectivity in these alleged animal abuse/"hoarding" cases is just incredible. They might as well scream "WITCH" or "Pod Person"...

Posted by: PJBoosinger | September 22, 2010 1:08 AM    Report this comment

I'm afraid I must disagree with much of the above. Many local health agencies delight in finding these events because it justifies their jobs and authority.Most actual events are much more marginal and are treated very harshly. I know of one such "raid" locally where she had 4 dogs and 4 cats, all elderly, who had individual inside cages, dogs outside in individual pens during day w/shade water, and dog house, then crated inside at night. The politically connected "neighborhood leader" kept complaining, animal control came 6 times, found nothing wrong, then got tired of complaints so seized animals and evicted her time 7. Shortly thereafter her house caught fire from burning kerosene lantern in basement.She doesn't use kerosene at all. When her house was rebuilt several "leaders" were at scene screaming and yelling. I know of 2 vets who no longer work with animal control because it is political - leave the neighborhood or your dogs will be seized and euthanized for "health reasons" Her house is next door to a commercial area that would like to expand. Give careful thought to all the competing interests before making arbitrary assumptions, and try to really help if possible, perhaps feed, bathe, etc. These people didn't create the dog problem, even if they don't have a perfect solution.Mother Teresa took on way too much in India, too, and should have left many kids in streets. Maybe pets are lower life, but the impulse is the same.

Posted by: J. E | September 21, 2010 7:50 PM    Report this comment

I guess I could comment on the hoarding situation, but this story brings to my mind that we should all get to know our neighbors. To listen for their silent cries of help. To notice when things just aren't right.

Gigi - Have you tried to get in touch with other rescue groups or sanctuaries that would open their doors if the authorities do close her down? Perhaps being a step ahead would help your local animal control and they wouldn't resort to killing the innocents.

Posted by: KATHI R | September 21, 2010 4:49 PM    Report this comment

I'm not sure either of you people understand the magnitude of a hoarding situation. You cannot reason with a hoarder! DO NOT give them options to correct the situation! Their brains do not function that way and they will simply move somewhere else and innocent animals will continue to suffer! Euthanasia is a horrible option to think about but it is better for the animals to be humanely euthnized then to continue to live in deplorable conditions. A person with 35 dogs cannot possibly care for them properly on their own. That is a small kennel and the cost and time would far exceed what a husband and wife could afford unless they make millions. I know, I have 8 dogs and it takes every living breathing moment of my time to give them the proper care and attention they need. It's takes most of the money we make to properly feed them and pay their vet bills. All I do is clean so don't tell me her house doesn't smell with 35 dogs in it. Impossible! Take the wool off your eyes and get the authorities involved. No animal deserves to live like that. Again, I hate the thought of euthanasia. When I was in rescue I rescued every elderly dog I could get my hands on and found them wonderful homes. But they need special care as all animals do. Please, get these animals help.

Posted by: Annette T | September 21, 2010 3:01 PM    Report this comment

Does someone else know of this problem? I think I would go to her with at least another person and tell her you are aware of the situation and if things don't change, you will contact the proper authorities. You can also say that if she truly loves her animals she would not let it come to this point, as some of her older animals would be euthanized. In my area there are organizations that rescue older animals and others that might otherwise be put down. Are there any of these organizations in your area?
Dianne F.

Posted by: DIANNE F | September 21, 2010 1:33 PM    Report this comment

I am in a position to decide what to do with a local "rescue group" that I was fostering for. I say was because I no longer work with her because of her lying to me plus we had given her a donated working car AND cash because she is a 501(3)c and was always broke. I couldn't figure out why the dogs didn't move that fast because since I volunteered to do her website, I knew she had a lot of applications. She has 35 of her own dogs plus she has a small foster group because the foster's never seemed to last. I'm not comfortable calling animal control because I know she has some older ones that would be euthanized if animal control went in. Her house doesn't smell (I was in there for a short period of time and saw all the dogs) and I do know her husband lets them out during the day (she works). Does anyone have any suggestions?

Posted by: GIGI W | September 21, 2010 11:07 AM    Report this comment

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