Hoarders 8.9 – Ellen, Gloria

hoarders mental illness reality

BEFORE WE BEGIN, ANOTHER REMINDER: I am not an employee of the show.  I am not involved with the actual production of the show. The purpose of this show appearing on this website is because I, an independent television viewer much like yourself, have a website and want to talk about this show in a compassion and academic way. If you find that you cannot talk about this show in a compassionate way, this is not the site for you. Go to A&E’s show boards and talk there.

I will not sign petitions. I will not share your petitions. I will not agree that these people are monsters, should be locked up, or any other hate-filled, uncompassionate ideology you wish to pin upon these people. As Dr. Zasio said in tonight’s episode, “I’M NOT HERE TO JUDGE.” I’m here to learn. It’s okay if you don’t want to, reader. You just can’t hang out with me.

Having said that, yes, tonight has an animal hoarder. While it’s never good, the animals were not in such bad straits as we’ve seen before, not by a long shot. She had outdoor kennels for them.  The Humane Society even believed she could have a few animals back, and they only do that when they’ve assessed her ability to care for them. 

“I just want you to live like you want to be alive.” Wow.

Ellen, Queens, New York

“I am a hoarder with a capital H.” She calls one part of her house as her “Everything” room, and that’s pretty apt. Everything you could imagine is in there, with a narrow channel running to a chair. It’s also the only room she functions in—eating, reading, sleeping all happen here. Yet she tells us that when she sits in here, she feels it close in on her. I would, too.

Her sons, Mark, Scott and Doug, can’t bear it. Doug lives in the basement and can’t bring himself to come up into the chaos. They’ve tried to clean, and we all know the drill by now. Doug is frustrated because the hoard is now coming into his space.

Ellen’s (very dashing) husband was shot and killed in the line of duty when the boys were toddlers. This was obviously devastating for the family. The boys believed this was the trigger for not only their mother’s increased heavy drinking, but her hoarding. She’s apologized for her alcoholism to her boys, and because they are dear men, accepted her apology. And to her credit, she has 20+ years of sobriety under her belt.

That is not easy to accomplish, so my hat’s off to you, Ellen.

Mark believes she simply replaced one addiction with another: Hoarding. (Well, he’s not wrong. That’s how it works often.) She has a “drunk house”.

“Hoarding is a quiet killer.” I really love these boys and how smart and aware they are.

It turns out that Ellen has an additional problem: shoplifting. 20% of things in her hoard are stolen, she says. She has a specific tote she uses to shoplift, too, called her “Big Bag.” I bet that’s going to be something that needs to be tossed straight away. She’s now in a place where the insurance company is aware of the hoarding and could take the house.

Dr. Robin Zasio arrives to take Ellen’s sister in law Denice on a trip through the house, a home she hasn’t been inside of in fifteen years. After they both get teary, Ellen is reassured that together, the family is going to help her. She’s fortunate in that she has a family who loves her.

Dr. Zasio is a perfect fit for Ellen, because she specializes in OCD. Smoking, drinking, kleptomania and hoarding are all related in that aspect. Steri-Clean and Cory Chalmers also are a great match, because I think the sons and Cory will have excellent chemistry on this project.

Ellen struggles from the start. She needs to see everything, touch it, evaluate it. And then Doug finds in the hoard outside a billfold of his father’s, one filled with pictures, and he’s so hurt by it lying out in the junk. Those are all the pictures they have. Ellen is emotional, too, but she’s still unable to make good choices. She feels bullied and unhappy. Well, she needs to either be pushed harder, or the team needs to change tack.

Cory checks in with the family on the morning of Day Two. Ellen is agitated by Doug putting his father’s burial flag—which he also found outside in the hoard—in a place for safe keeping. Mark is frustrated with the two not talking about it. I can understand both points of view. (And Mark is a good brother.) But we need to figure out what’s going on with Doug. There are a lot of emotions at play.

Mark tells Dr. Zas that things in the past were kept in the past. There were family secrets that have been kept, and unfortunately, those secrets aren’t well hidden. They never are. It’s all bubbling to the surface. Dr. Zasio feels it’s time for Ellen to admit her kleptomania to her sons.

Scott’s really upset by this turn in events. He’s conflicted by the fact that his mother always made sure there was a meal on the table and that those boys made it to adulthood with the fact that he doesn’t believe she can get better by “choosing” which problem she’s going to get help with, the hoarding or the kleptomania. Mark keeps reminding everyone that Ellen wanted this help and to not be rash in their frustrations.

…have I mentioned how much I admire these men?

Scott tells Dr. Zasio that there was so much structure and discipline when he was growing up. There was no going outside to play unless the house was cleaned up. This problem is bigger than he expected and he’s losing hope.

“You’re as sick as your own secrets.” Ellen tells her family her secret, and while they’re shocked and upset by it, they focus on what’s important, that they love her. Her son says, “Whatever she needs me to do, I’m going to do.” Good lord, these boys. I just love them.

Is this going to be what motivates Ellen? Looks like it. Some amazing work is done that day, and when she sees how much was cleaned out, she’s overcome. (Us, too.) This is a house she can start over in. The “everything room” is just awesome. Everyone is speechless. Then Ellen finds her joy and giggles, jumping onto her new bed.

AFTER THE SHOW

Ellen has been enjoying her new home it seems by having lots of family and friends to visit. Oh, I love that.

 

Gloria, Liberty, Texas

“I’m a hoarder and I’ve been doing it for 20-something years.” She has dogs and cats, 15 of each, I believe, and she loves them dearly. Please know that she does. She’s also mentally ill and doesn’t realize that her “saving them” from the side of the road isn’t really saving them.

Ann, her daughter, believes the animals are being abused. “I think they were better off being left on the side of the road.” She’s not wrong. Gloria’s house is a small manufactured house, and it’s packed with stuff and with animals. And as we know with animals comes urine, feces, mice, ticks, fleas… It’s a nightmare. (One saving grace: the outdoor kennels and access to running in the wide open spaces outside her home. And they do have access to it.)

Brandy is Gloria’s granddaughter. She points out how there is no “open carpet.” If the animals poop on the floor, Gloria will simply cover it with trash, a blanket, a towel, and the animals then go to the bathroom on that, on and on making a lasagna of waste.

Christine, another daughter, thinks her mother is lonely and surrounds herself with animals and items that cannot leave her. Gloria, it turns out, has a history of being trapped in abusive marriages. She finally met Lee, married him, and finally was happy. And then tragedy struck. Lee was killed while driving home to pick her up, just feet from the house. Gloria, looking for what was keeping him, actually passed his body twice before realizing what she was seeing.

Lee, however, was an alcoholic, and Christine believes his drinking led Gloria to hoard to deal with a drunken husband. Since Lee died, they all believe her hoarding has gotten worse. They haven’t been inside in five years, since Gloria had a brain aneurysm and was in the hospital. Gloria didn’t respond well to her daughters cleaning the house for her return.

The girls want their mother to have some joy in her life, but they’ve also given her an ultimatum. “Clean up, or APS, the Humane Society, and the sheriff’s department will be called.” It’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.

Dr. Suzanne Chaubaud and Christine come for the walk-through. Christine has only ever seen two cats in the house. This is… much more than that. The women both begin coughing and choking. “Do you think you deserve this?” Christine asks.

Spoiler alert: yes, Gloria does. (Oh, no. No one deserves that.)

Also, I’d like to say something to anyone who is going into a known-hoarder’s house: please wear close-toed shoes. I bet your manicure is gorgeous, but sandals + several inches of urine and poop mean those sandals are going to melt from the uric acid. Gah.

“Life can come out of this,” Dr. Chabaud says, “but we have to build it.”

Dorothy Breininger and the Service Master Clean crew arrive. Dorothy also brings an animal expert along with a team from the Humane Society to address the animals first before the hoard. With a lot of patience, they round up all the dogs and assess their health. They have fur missing in spots, they’re crawling with fleas, and they deserve a better life. There are simply too many animals for one person to care for.

Gloria, however, refuses to imagine them with anyone but her. (Kudos to Richard for his gentle approach. He clearly was trying to keep the situation calm.) He asks her, “What’s best for them?” She agrees for them to be evaluated offsite. This is key to getting the Humane Society in control of the animals, for starters, and secondly, it’s good that she’s agreeing that it needs to happen. Animals hoarders must understand that they cannot care for so many animals them in order to prevent them from “collecting” more animals down the road.

The animals have their tails wagging as they’re being taken to the Humane Society’s vet center.

The crew begins to pull out the inanimate items. Now we see Gloria getting upset. The sisters are bickering over whether or not things can be thrown away. It’s not good. Christine leaves over a fight about urine-soaked Playboys. “Don’t call me again.” She says this both to her sister and her mom.

Yikes.

Brandy thinks the older sisters are in a weird sort of competition with each other (not unheard of in a dysfunctional home like this) and now that it’s over by virtue of Christine leaving, the clean up should go better, she surmises.

Well, that was some misplaced optimism. Gloria still wants to keep everything. They pull a rug back from the floor and the difference between the poop and urine stained carpet and the cleared space is horrific.

Her granddaughter says, “I am covered in dog shit and piss. And I’m still here because I love you. I just want you to live like you want to be alive.”

Ann tells her, “I’ve been here every time you’ve needed a rescue. But this is it.”

Gloria replied, “I know. And I appreciate it.” She finally says what I think both daughters needed to hear: “I love you.”

Ann and Brandy managed to get in there in a way that Gloria was able to understand and have her breakthrough moment. The crew kicks it into high gear. They get rid of anything “we don’t believe is fit for a home.”

Wow, the transformation of this house is like a whole new place. My word, I’m speechless.

“This is really pretty, isn’t it?” Yes, Gloria, it sure is.

Gloria thanks her family, sharing her love with them all. It’s about time this lady has something to take pride in.

She’s still cleaning and working with an organizer. Out of 30 animals removed, 3 dogs (I assume the small ones) and a cat were returned. The rest are being adopted out. That’s good, too. Please remember she wasn’t as bad with her animals as others have been. They were outside often, at least. Now let’s make sure she stays up on their vaccines and such.

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  • Cory Chalmers

    Thanks as always Laura. I loved this family and I was so happy to see the success we All as a team were able to accomplish. This, like all hoards, is about the road map that led to all of this, and I think we started the process in reversing that road map, and she now has the knowledge and tools to maintain the progress. Thanks for the recap and the neutral stance you take. I know firsthand sometimes, that is hard but its the only way to truly educate people about this disorder, while doing as much as we can to help a hoarder in the few days we are there. You rock!

    • You know, I think about my first reaction when I started watching Season One, and the judgments I carried around, the assumptions I made. This show and the work you and the crew do to not only help families but educate the public on mental health issues does so much good. It’s why I’m so militant about making sure people are respectful and open minded when discussing these stories.

      I was so impressed with the men in Gloria’s family, how kind and tender they were, how willing to put other’s struggles and pain first before they made any decisions. A lot can be learned from just this one family.

      You guys all just make me proud. You do great work.

      • Richard Wright

        Thanks for the kind words concerning my interaction with Gloria. While it was frustrating at times, she was able to finally put her animals needs before her own, which made it all worth while. As bad is it may have appeared, I’ve seen far worse conditions through my years of work in the field, and Gloria truly loved all those animals. By the way, I love your observations and insights into the episodes, they’re pretty darn accurate. Keep up the good work!

        • Happy to provide a place for people to (positively and kindly) discuss this topic, Richard!

          As for last season’s ep, that was one that hit a little too close to home. There are the rare occasions where I bow out of show discussions, and that happened to be one of them. It was strictly for selfish reasons, and not a reflection on the great work of the cast and crew.

  • Miranda Prince

    Again, Laura, I’m impressed by your kindness and compassion in writing about these folk. Animal hoarding just breaks my heart (and you’re right, Gloria is far from the worst we’ve seen on “Hoarders.”) No hate, no judgment. It’s just so awfully sad. I have such respect for Richard and his patience and gentleness.

    • I don’t know if you see the comment above yours, but it’s the senior director of the animal shelter who worked with her and the crew. He had some good things to say about her and how the animals were actually treated.

      My favorite part about writing these recaps is knowing that the crew reads every comment (and honestly, so do most of the families. They typically send me private messages, though, and given the nature of how comment sections can fall apart, I understand why.)

      Thanks again for being such a tremendous support of what these guys are trying to do!