Inside the mind of a hoarder
February 22, 2011 (WPVI) -- Raids on animal hoarders top headlines often due to the deplorable conditions usually found inside.George Bengal of the PSPCA described one picture he showed us, "this is about two feet deep of feces."
But unbelievable conditions can also be found inside the home of an object hoarder.
In fact, on Monday (2/21/2011) a man lost his life, when his home in Philadelphia's Wissinoming section went up in flames. Fire officials said careless smoking may have been the cause of the fire but his massive collection of "stuff" became instant fuel.
"We used to get after him because you know they throw these newspapers and all that stuff use to pile up all over his house, all over everything and we used to get after him about a fire hazard because there are houses on both sides of him," said neighbor Dennis Maragliano.
What makes a person become a hoarder? We talked to two women who both asked not to be identified. One has a larger than normal amount of cats. And the other has an attachment to "things". We'll call them Betty and Ruth.
We asked both women if they would call themselves a hoarder. Betty said no.
"I'm tired of having people accuse me of abusing my animals, that my house is filthy and its horrible living conditions."
In fact, Betty's house was tidy with food, water and litter boxes. But we did count as many as 25 cats.
"It makes me happy to take care of them it gives them a good life."
Ruth said her object hoarding only became clear after she took a picture of her "collection".
"You look around you and it doesn't look bad," she said. "But then I took a picture of it," she paused. "The photograph didn't lie."
Ruth said it's a problem that gets away from you and then literally piles up.
"With lack of relationships and with friends who had moved away and passed away stuff began to take over," she explained. "If you were to ask me why some of these things mattered? Some I could probably tell you, but some I could not."
But Ruth said when she sought help she found very little.
Dr. Mahendra Bhati of the University of Pennsylvania said that's because hoarding is largely a misunderstood disorder.
"Hoarding isn't even in the current DSM."
The DSM is the manual psychiatrists use to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Since hoarding isn't recognized as a unique disorder doctors can't diagnose it as one.
"The only place where hoarding shows up is in a description of what's called obsessive compulsive personality disorder."
But here's the problem, Dr. Bhati said treatments for OCD don't work on hoarders and there is no drug solution. He said one of the only effective treatments is prolonged behavioral therapy, which costs money.
"It's not a condition that insurance companies would recognize as reimbursable for."
Some good news is that the DSM is under revision and for the first time hoarding is expected to be added. That means it will have its own diagnosis and treatment plan.
Something Ruth said is desperately needed for sufferers like her.
"It can be fixed, it can be helped but it takes patience," she said. "Progress in something like this doesn't happen in miles it happens in inches."
The new DSM is scheduled to be released in May 2013. Until then there are some resources you can turn to for help if you or a loved one is a hoarder.
On the animal side, the PSPCA will help with removal and placement of the animals. In Bucks County they've created a task force to help with all aspects of animal hoarding including therapy.
For object hoarders there is a website called the Hoarding Cleanup Nationwide Directory which lists doctors in each state that specialize in that area. We've also listed more help resources on our website at 6abc.com.
Hoarding Cleanup Nationwide Directory
The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia
Hartford Hospital: Compulsive Hoarding
Academy of Cognitive Therapy
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium
special report, hoarding, animals, special reports
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