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Local agencies tackle issues with ‘hoarding’

By Staff | Jan 26, 2011

The Cape is not immune to the health issue dubbed “hoarding.”
Lee County Animal Services responded to a home in the city late last year that had more than 70 cats and three adults living in conditions officials describe as near squalor: Unsanitary conditions throughout the house and cats in various states of physical duress.
Officials say hoarding conditions were so bad that firefighters were hampered fighting a fire at the residence a little over a month later.
Lee County Animal Service’s Chief Officer Adam Leath is trying to find ways to fight hoarding, which has come into the national spotlight recently due to reality shows on satellite and cable.
Leath formed a task force for that very purpose, and its second meeting on Wednesday in Fort Myers was filled with what Leath described as “good dialogue” among the various agencies that attended the meeting.
Mental health services, law enforcement, code enforcement, private business and non-profit groups all have to find a way to work together, Leath said, not only for crisis prevention, but to provide help in the long run.
Without that long-term care, hoarders will return to the same living conditions.
“We don’t have anything in place to commit to these people long term,” Leath said. “Putting them in jail or giving them some kind of monetary fine fixes nothing.”
Mental health counselor Mark Chidley, one of the first to respond to the Cape Coral home, said hoarders are “living with a lot of fear,” often dealing with depression and anxiety disorders.
“The initial intervention can be demanding,” Chidley said. “You need to change their thinking first and address clean up along the way.”
Leath said the occupants of the home didn’t know how many cats actually lived there. Many of the cats were in poor condition, there was no ventilation in the home, the electrical system was failing (and would eventually lead to the fire), there were no working facilities, and nearly a dozen dead cats were scattered throughout the home.
Cape Coral Code Compliance Manager Frank Cassidy praised the work of Leath, and his efforts to combine the different agencies into a single task force with a singular mission.
In the case of the Cape Coral home last year, Cassidy said code didn’t “red tag” the house until all the pieces fell into place, including animal and mental health services.
Still, it was clear to Cassidy that the occupants of the home didn’t quite realize the severity of their situation.
“They didn’t understand how serious of an issue they were living in, how life threatening it was,” he said.