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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Loving Too Much

There are several different TV channels now with shows about Hoarders. My husband is about to ban me from watching the one on the animal channel because i get "crazy" and yell at the TV. What is frustrating to watch, and yes I am aware there is a lot we are not seeing, is the rescuers that come in and coddle many of these hoarders who we KNOW are going to keep on doing what they are doing after the cameras are gone. Sure we see at the end of the show "three weeks later: all is well and happy." Laa Tee Daa...What we don't see is in 6 months when animal control is called back and in 2 years when the situation is the same or worse.
This happens especially in cases where animal control is thwarted from doing their job. None of these people get prosecuted or convicted of animal cruelty. They are allowed to keep many of the animals and get more. Then the cycle starts over again. And Animal Control has to start back at square one. It's frustrating to watch and know, as well as working these types of cases. And the animals? This is the tragic part nobody really knows about. Almost all of the animals taken will need to be humanely euthanized due to health or behavior. The rescues on TV will leave you with that fluffy bunny feeling that they are going to find homes for ALL the animals that they take from the owners. Reality check!
Of the dozens of dogs take from one guy who ALL had severe cases of mange, to the point where they had no hair and severe skin infections, do you really think ALL those dogs are going to get homes? Do you understand the long tern care to get the dogs health enough to be adoptable? Let's say there are 12 dogs taken, maybe 2-4 will be saved. For cats the odds are even worse. But the fluffy bunnies don't want you or the hoarders to know that.
And that is what is so frustrating. They will be able to do it all over again.
There are many types of Hoarders. I had a dog hoarder who had close to 30 dogs. She was a foster home for a Rescue. When I asked her if the rescue knew how many dogs she had, she said yes. They keep giving her dogs. She was aware that she had too many, yet she couldn't make herself say no. She couldn't bring herself to tell the Rescue that they needed to place these dogs. Out of sight out of mind on the Rescues part? I wasn't able to get a hold of the Rescues Director so I didn't know. However, the hoarder seemed almost relieved that someone turned her in. I wrote her a warning notice that gave her 30 days to reduce the number of animals. She would be allowed to keep 4 dogs. I went back 30 days later. All but 4 of the dogs had been returned to the rescue and re-placed in other foster homes. The former-hoarder also got the 4 dogs she kept licensed. She proudly showed me into her home, where she was very embarrassed to allow me in before, she was so proud that it was clean and no longer chaotic. She was also able to move her elderly mother out of a nursing home and into her house now. Before, she couldn't have her mother at her home. Not only because of the dogs but because she couldn't let anyone in the home due to the conditions it would reveal. She thanked me for "busting" her. Now she has a life other than working and caring for dogs. She and her mother are also able to take a vacation out of state. She hasn't taken a vacation in over 7 years. This is one of those few exceptions. This is someone who is aware that they are in trouble, but so overwhelmed that they don't know how to ask for help or are too embarrassed. Or how to say no. This type of Hoarder has probably a 50/50 chance of repeating her hording behavior. And that is as good as it gets.
Another hoarder case that rears it's ugly head every now and then is one where the hoarder is crafty and elusive. This hoarder was first brought to our attention when her house caught fire. This was before my time, that just shows how long this case has been going on. This is a cat hoarder. I don't know what it is about cat hoarders, but they tend to be the most difficult. Well this particular hoarder has her place set up so that no one can see in, except maybe her neighbors who occasionally catch glimpses of the horrors they report to us. This hoarder has a high locked gate that is far from front door. I also suspect that she has cameras. We leave notices regarding complaints and she knows the drill. She is somehow able to move the excess cats to another location before allowing us in to do an inspection. We have found that there are many hoarders like this who have more than one house so they are able to relocate animals temporarily. It's a giant shell game and they are very good at it. To this day we still have not been able to catch her in the act. This hoarder is not only a repeat offender, she never stops.
Another hoarder like the one above has multiple residences, in different jurisdictions. The house we accessed the hoarder wasn't able to get all the cats out. This place was a house of horrors. The garage was filled to the rafters with junk, including cages where animals were being kept. Feces was piled up in the cages. Inside the house was even worse. Furniture, cages and rotting garbage lined narrow pathways throughout the house. The garage door into the kitchen, couldn't be opened more than a few inches due to the debris. Feces covered everything in 2-3 inch layers. The pathways were 4-6 inches of feces. Our Senior Officer actually threw her shoes away after being in this house. Cats still scattered here and there. We had to set traps to catch the remaining cats. The hoarder? She moved to another location, apparently one of three that we were aware of. And she and other person had been living in that filth. Several moths later she did the same thing. She abandoned another residence in another jurisdiction again leaving behind horrid conditions and abandoned cats. this hoarder is much like the previous will be in a few years when it starts to catch up to them. But how many animals have to suffer until they get to the point where they have to stop and are caught.
And there is the cat hoarder who psychologically cannot see the problem. She doesn't smell the acrid feces and urine stench that can be smelled before getting up the driveway to the door. She doesn't see the sick and emaciated cats among the healthy ones that are everywhere. She doesn't see the dead cat that is laying on her coffee table in her cluttered feces ridden living room. Her own children have called Animal Services to help as she has already shut them out. Sometimes in these situations the family has called APS (Adult Protective Services) and APS has called us in. In theses cases all the animals are taken. There is no other choice. And if they do stay in their home and refuse to surrender animals it becomes a babysitting job. They don't have to open their homes to us. And many just don't answer the door. And then the family suddenly refuses to cooperate after feeling guilty for making mom or grandma so upset.
And unfortunately we all are guilty of enabling them sometimes. You can get sucked into it. For the animals sake.
We have a case we are working now. Hoarder "M" is somewhat different from many of the hoarders we deal with. Surprising her tiny apartment is immaculately clean considering she has currently over 30 cats. We have so far been able to have her surrender 44 cats and kittens. She is a very nice elderly woman and is very attached to her cats. All her cats. They ALL have names and all are very friendly. It is very emotional to the point of making her physically ill to surrender any of the cats to us. But she is very cooperative and isn't in denial of the situation. She is aware that she has too many cats and she cannot continue to keep doing what she is doing. She knows she is loving them too much. Issuing her a citation or taking her cats by force, will not help the cats, and will take longer for us to be able to help the healthy animals. And she won't open the door for any of our male officers. We do have to spend a good deal of time working with her. And she is one who is on that tentative tipping scale of as many as she lets us take, she will bring in. She loves them all too much. She even admits that if any of the complex children who she also calls her babies, bring her an animal, she is going to bring it in. This could be a very uphill battle. We are trying to keep the battle field level. Slowing reducing the number to a manageable maintainable level and removing and trying to save as many cats as we can. And trying to not drive her over the emotional edge.  
It's all so complicated. Every case is different so you have no easy step by step to follow.
I had someone, a family member of a hoarder, very frustrated with the whole situation ask why Animals Services can't be doing more by providing mandatory therapy free of cost to these people instead of charging and fining them.Why can't Animal Services impose a lifetime ban on these people for owning more than 1 or 2 pets. This would prevent them from going out and collecting again and again.
This is a huge frustration of mine. We do as much as we can to try to rescue and save the animals. We cannot force people to go to therapy. Even if they are sentenced in court to go to therapy or never to own animals again. They do what they want. And many times they move out of the jurisdiction that they got "busted" in and start all over again. I know for many Animal Service Agencies we are having our budgets slashed, employees laid off, less volunteers, and the case loads don't slow down. Free services (at least here in our county) cost someone something. The money has to come from somewhere and someone has to pay for it. So we "bust" the hoarder, they are cited to appear in court, we take the animals and at the expense of the facility, they are examined by a vet, treated or euth'd, housed, fed and cleaned up after for however long is required. And when you have double to triple digits of animals coming from one case, on top of the hundreds of animals that are already in the shelter as well as the multitudes more that come in daily. Who pays that bill? The hoarder? Not that I have ever seen. Oh, they may receive a bill for services, but they don't pay it. And when they go to court, they are sentenced, to court fines and to never have animals. It is up to them to comply. And if they move, like they frequently do, they are in the wind again until the get caught again. And unfortunately if we don't know where they went we can't give a heads up to the next jurisdiction.
So our hands are tied and we are left with the bill.
I don't fault the TV shows for portraying hoarding. I hope that maybe showing some these situations will help educate people of the unknown, some recognition to the problems and help hoarders families get the help they need.
Anyone who has dealt with Hoarding cases know it's a mental disorder that needs long term care. This is not something we as Animal Service Officers can provide and we can only do so much.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

And It's Not Even A Full Moon

Every day is a busy day anymore with staffing levels. So we look at our call sheet when we are heading out to the field to assess what needs to be done the most urgently. I'm looking at my call sheet and see this one call for a pick up of 8 dogs in some one's apartment. That just doesn't seem right. Of coarse what does go through my head is either someone found a litter of puppies OR their dog had a litter and they are trying to get rid of them without paying a fee.
I decided to give the CP a call to find out what was going on. I took note that the address was in a pretty ghetto area, so there were possibilities that the dogs had been abandoned. The CP answered and I told her who I was and asked her if the dogs were a mom and puppies. She said that some of them were. I asked her if there were 8 or was that a typo, she stated that there were actually 13 dogs she had a couple of the neighbor kids count them.
Were they small dogs? Some are.
How did they get into your apartment? I don't know, I took my own dogs out about 4am and they were here when I came back.
Do you have a roommate or someone living in your house that maybe brought them in? No, my daughter is in LA. I just don't know how they could have all gotten up in here! I can't even go in my bedroom because that big shepherd looking one growls at me when I even open the door. They are everywhere! Hiding behind my couch, be hind the TV stand and under the TV stand. They are just every where! There is a mother dog with puppies behind the TV one of the puppies is under it. I can see it's eyes.
I can't even begin to explain all the scenarios gong through my head. I knew I had to see this for myself. I had that inkling that there was something off about this CP. But I could be wrong. This woman was very serious sounding, her speech wasn't slurred, she was very articulate sounding, she didn't stumble over words or give me any indication that she was off her medication or self medicating.
I told her that I would be there in approximately half and hour. She thanked me profusely and told me she has been sitting on her front porch since 4am she is so afraid to go into her apartment.  I assured her that I would be there as soon as I could, barring any emergencies.
Oh, there is one more thing I hope that you can get. There is a baby rattlesnake under the TV stand.
BING BING BING!! The cookoo alarm in my head just when off full tilt.
I asked if she was sure that it was a snake? Isn't one of the puppies under there? How did it get there? Oh I think one of the dogs must have brought it in. Please hurry?
Of coarse, I will be there as soon as possible. I need to make a call to see if another officer will be able to help me with all those dogs, my truck won't hold that many.
So I hang up with her. I would have been speechless had anyone else been with me. This was just too good to not share! So I called 460. She was the South Officer for the day and I was the North.
I gave her the whole story between episodes of laughter. She agreed that two officers were needed for this call. IF there were 13 dogs no way I would be able to handle that load, and OFFICER SAFETY.
She was about as far out as I was, so we would meet there.
We did arrive at about the same time. We both rolled into one of the most ghetto-fied apartment complexes in the area.
There was the CP, sitting on the front porch of her Second Story Apartment. She waved to us as we found our parking spots. 460 and I came together and both exchanged the "look". You know the one where you look over the top of your sunglasses at each other knowing what each other is thinking? Ya, that look.
So we climbed the stairs to meet the CP at the top. First thing I notice is her two little dogs barking furiously at us. Then I notice her eyes. Blood shot, glassy with a hind of yellow tinge. I am half listening to her hush at her dogs and explain where the dogs are hiding in her apartment. The front door is wide open and I can see that both the couch and love seat across the room appear to have been shredded. Stuffing coming out everywhere. I enter her apartment with her and 460 stands by near the door. I begin to search the room using my flashlight to check every crevice and dark places. My first stop is the TV and Stand where the mom dog, puppies and snake are suppose to be. The CP is pointing from across the room Right there! Right behind there!
Nothing behind the TV. Nothing under that TV stand, which by the way is only about 1-2 inches off the ground. I search behind the couches and boxes in corner. Nothing.
The CP is insistent that I check the TV stand again. I stand in front of the TV and ask the CP to show me where she sees the dogs. She insists that there is one starring at her right now, she can see it's beady little eyes. So I get down as far as I can with out laying on the floor and look into the dark 1 1/2 inch high space.
I was using my flash light. Nothing.
I stood back up and told her nothing was there. Where else?
Well, where did they go?They were all in here! I swear I am NOT going crazy!
Uh, Ya you are. Your already passed there lady. Of coarse I didn't say this out loud. But I did look over at 460 and could read her mind as well. And she was thinking the same thing.
We checked the bedroom for the one she insisted way growling at her. Nope.
We checked under her kitchen table and her spare room. Nothing.
We checked behind the washer and dryer, and even showed her that snakes were not poking their little heads out from under her washer.
Back to the living room. She is still insistent that they are behind the TV. So I look behind it again.
She points to the spot next to where I am standing.
If you move the big brown one you'll see the puppies!
Where? I can see the empty space she is staring at.
It's right There!...It's wagging it's tail!
I wave my hand in the empty space. Right here?? :wave wave wave:
It was time for us to end this case. We would be there all day, looking for invisible animals. I still couldn't tell if she was off her meds or ON something. Other than seeing invisible dogs and snakes. She seemed perfectly fine.
He neighbor came out and yelled at her, I told you there wasn't nothing in there!
But she was still convinced. She still insisted that they were there, hiding. I told her that if they came back, what she needs to do is get them all in a box and bring them down to the shelter. We will take them for free!
We got in our trucks and drove out. As we did I called 460 and warned her not to look and roll up her window. CP was on her balcony trying to get our attention. Drive Drive Drive!
We got the heck outta there. We drove just down the street to an empty lot. It wasn't until there we could safely burst out in laughter at the whole situation! Just as we started to discuss whether to call APS County Central calls me on the radio.
They said that the CP from the Call I was just at called back, she said the dogs are back and there are about 10 hiding behind her front door. That must have been where they had been hiding...Uh is there anything we need to know about this CP?
Uh, yes that is affirmative, she's a 5150. No danger to herself or others but if she continues to call in might want to have SSD or APS go out and check on her.
And I got 4 more phone calls from her on my cell, just let it go to voicemail.

I entered my report in that evening being as professional as possible without ad-libbing remarks.
460 simply put in, Assisted 461 with invisible animals.