WARNING: This week features Celia, an animal hoarder, but I promise it’s not the level of animal hoarding we’ve seen in the past. (And all of the animals have since had medical attention with the vast being adopted out, thanks to the local SPCA.)
CELIA, Southern California
“When you walk into my house, it looks like Hurricane Katrina.” Celia is a beautiful woman with a lot of energy–and a massive mess of a hoard, one that spreads into every room of her spacious home. Renee, her friend, calls the house a nightmare. To compound matters, there are many little dogs living in the house –Yorkies are the predominant breed, with some. Celia loves to dress them up, take them shopping and for car rides. “I feel like Mexican-American Lady Diana.” We see her taking many dogs out on trips, so hey. Fresh air, change of scenery?
Lucy is Celia’s younger sister. She tells us that there are even more dogs living in cages. More? Wow. That is a lot of animals. Annette is the youngest sister. She believes it’s morally wrong to have that many animals, and I can’t argue with that. There seems to be a real disconnect in how the sisters view Celia (“She thinks she’s smarter than everyone.”) and how she views herself (“I just love dressing them up. They’re like little people.”)
Animal control has been notified about the situation. She’s been told that legally she’s allowed three dogs. Any more and they’ll be confiscated by the county, she’ll be fined a large sum and possibly jailed. Her solution now is to hide them. She believes it’s not unlike a Holocaust survivor, and that’s when I have to shake my head.
The only thing “like” a Holocaust survivor is a Holocaust survivor. Repeat that until you stop using the Holocaust as a comparison to anything other than another Holocaust. (Hint: Animal control is not on par with the Gestapo, for crying out loud.)
Celia wanted children. That was denied her, so her dogs now fill her aching heart. The loss of that dream is something she still feels keenly. 30 years prior, she and her husband divorced after a horribly controlling relationship. He forced her to have an abortion right after they married, snuffing her fervent wish to have a child, and she fought his control ever since by doing things like impulse shopping, which morphed into stealing.
The family has tried helping out, but because Celia wasn’t ready to make a change, the house immediately became hoarded out again. We’ve certainly seen that before. Fortunately we have Dr. Robin Zasio on scene to at least address the issue of the 13 dogs. Celia’s sister Yolanda begins to cry as soon as she walks inside. There is visible excrement everywhere, more than from just the dogs. Rats make themselves at home there, too. (Of course. We know this, but it’s easy–and essential to survival–that hoarders don’t think on this.)
The camera shows us more of how the dogs live, and yeah. It’s not good. They need bathing (especially this breed), and we learn one of them has special medical needs and requires medications for a skin condition. Dr. Zasio is visibly upset. 13 dogs… It’s too much for one person.
As if to underscore this, Celia prepares a needle for the dog, administers it, then immediately flips out. “I gave the dog the wrong medicine. I gave her Prozac.” Dr. Zasio, one dog in her hands, is frozen in shock. Yolanda looks ready to start grabbing animals and running. I wouldn’t blame either of them.
Celia calls the vet in a panic, and they assure her that the Prozac will not, in fact, harm the dog. …and that the medication she’s been administering is actually just a laxative.
What is going on?
Dr. Zasio wants to know, too, and also points out to us that this is precisely why a person shouldn’t have so many animals. Too much chaos, too much disorganization, and the dogs are who suffer. The Got Junk trucks and Dorothy Breininger arrive the next day, and I have to laugh a little, because I’ve said all along that Dorothy comes to speak for kids whose voices have not been heard. Well, I guess that can be applied to the dogs in this situation.
Tensions mount with friend Renee and Celia right off the bat. Renee tells the camera, “She needs me more than I need her. I’m not going to be around that ungrateful bitch. Lazy pig bitch.” Well, don’t be shy about your feelings, Renee. Tell us how you feel. (This is the first 15 minutes of clean up, by the way.)
Well. That was a first for me, and I’ve been here from the beginning.
Meanwhile, Richard Wright, our resident animal expert from the SPCA, is on scene to assess their health. He’s most concerned about the ones kenneled for extended periods of time. They’re walking on urine, which can burn their feet, on top of not being well cared for. They all need to be bathed, to be fed more, the list goes on and on. Celia loves them, but Celia cannot care for them.
I appreciated that Richard says, “People who hoard animals start off with the best of intentions. That’s what you’ve done. Your heart is in the right place.” But then he shows her how their feet are getting tender, the fur matted from stepping in their own filth. She’s sorry; she just didn’t know. (Which is the problem.) He explains that his team is there to take any animals she’s willing to surrender, and they promise the animals will not be euthanized, which is a very likely scenario if the county had seized them. And: She can keep the legal limit of three.
She picks three and agrees for the vast majority of the animals to go to healthy forever homes. Everyone is very proud of her, and with good reason. The sisters all have amazing energy and are rocking and rolling until they all shriek and jump onto the newly exposed sofa. A box with a bunch of mice has been upturned. I can’t help it, I laughed at them screaming and jumping. Then again, long-time readers know that if I’d been there and there had been a spider, I would have flung myself off a bridge.
Dorothy grabs a few in her hands and gets everyone back on task… only to find an infestation of roaches in the bedroom. Ugh. The worst is in her bedroom, and Celia is devastated to have the extent of how she’s been living exposed, literally and figuratively.
“The physical stuff blocks a person’s ability to deal with the emotional stuff,” Dr. Zasio says. “Now that the physical is gone, there’s room for the emotions to come out.”
Everyone is (rightfully) proud of her. And then we see the house and… it’s lovely. It’s so clean and open, and everyone chokes up, beyond delighted. What an awesome family!
“I’d been in the eye of the hurricane,” Celia says. “Something shifted these last four days because my family came through for me.” She thanks everyone and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Here’s to hoping some great lessons were learned so she can keep moving forward.
After The Show
Celia and her family continue to move forward in improving their relationship as Celia continues therapy. She has kept her three dogs, but the ten she released have all been treated and adopted, which is a fantastic outcome for them as well.
NATHAN, Dawsonville, GA
“I’m a scavenger. I get a rush off finding things. I have ADOS: Attention Deficit Oooh, Shiny!” Okay, that’s hilarious. Nathan has a problem, but that was funny, young man. (Nathan is in his early thirties.)
His mother Kathy agrees that he’s a magpie. If it’s shiny or eye-catching, he wants it. Nathan calls them collections. And they were at one point, but now there are so many collections that it’s just a giant hodgepodge of stuff.
For example, the man has a collection of raccoon penis bones. You know: collectibles. Hahaha. This guy is a character and a half.
Nathan’s older brother Jason has never been inside the house, knowing what he’ll find inside: chaos. The house has been “collected” to the point where Nathan’s partner has issued an ultimatum. Him or the hoard. At least Nathan has his pet bird for a stalwart companion these days. It is charming to see him going on hikes in the woods with his parrot on his shoulder, but there’s no question that this hoarding is pushing his loved ones and family out of his life.
When Nathan was a child, his parents divorced after many years of tension. The picture we see of Nathan on the ground, a grimace on his face with his hands wrapped around his thin belly tells us just how well he dealt with his parents’ fighting when a little boy. He even says, “I filled my life with stuff.” Then at 15, he came out to his family. His church turned their back on him, as did his father.
“My christianity teaches me that homosexuality is wrong,” his father says. I think it’s important that he said “My christianity” because Christianity, a.k.a., the teachings of Jesus Christ, don’t state one single word about homosexuality. Not one. (No, you’re thinking of the apostle Paul. And Paul also believed women should cover their heads, so if you’re going to stick to your guns, you can’t pick and choose. Get that burkha on! Also, you can’t eat shrimp any more. Sorry! #knowyourbible) Christ did say, “As I have loved you, love one another.” So. Christianity or “my” christianity.
The family literally said to him, “Turn, or burn” and that he would die of AIDS. So. Not a lot of support happening here.
If the house doesn’t get clean, he could lose his house. His family, his partner, his house… “This is the lowest I’ve ever been in my life.” He needs help. Thank God we’ve got a great team on their way.
Dr. Melva Green arrives with Jason to see what can be done. I will say that the house isn’t as bad as we’ve seen these homes get. There is a lot of stuff, but there are walkways, clear places. This is about Nathan not ready to move past an unhappy childhood. Dr. Green gets him off privately in hopes he’ll actually express how he feels.
“I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I want to go or how to get there.” Well, I can certainly understand that. He realized who he was as a young man, but was told that no, he wasn’t that. Or he wasn’t supposed to be that. It seems to me like Nathan’s life record has been stuck on a skip at the start of his song. Dr. Green thinks he’s holding onto everything up to the age of 15. I think that’s about right.
Dr. Green calls the sheer hate disguised as religious belief thrown into Nathan’s face by his own family, “Psychological violence.” If you are the kind who tends to agree with the “turn or burn” mindset, fair enough. You’re entitled to your beliefs. But you should know that you aren’t supporting love, kindness, acceptance, or anything your religion’s founder (his name was Jesus of Nazareth) actually, literally taught.
“Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Turn or burn? Not in any translation of the Bible does that phrase exist, especially from the words of Jesus of Nazareth. (Can you tell this is a hot button issue for me?) I do remember something about people who have never done anything wrong and stone casting…
“I don’t think I’ll ever change their beliefs, though,” Nathan says softly, tears running down his face (and his sweet parrot friend sitting on his shoulder leaning in for affection).
“That’s not what it’s about.” Dr. Green is gentle and calm and I just love her a lot.
“What’s it about then?”
“It’s about not giving up on yourself, but accepting yourself wholly and completely.”
So I had to go walk around a bit and have a little cry. That’s so lovely.
Dr. Green knows that he will need to say hard, honest things, but it will be so good for him in the end. Oh my god, I want everything to be wonderful for Nathan, you guys.
(I did mention I’m a tender-hearted cry-baby, right?)
Standolyn Robertson is our organizer, rounding out an excellent team. Nathan’s father is there. This could be really hard, but wow, is it going to be cathartic. Nathan starts off making great decisions and Standolyn is shocked. She also points out that he’s young, so it’s good that we’re getting to him when we are and not ten or fifteen years down the road. Plus, to Nathan’s credit, he’s at a point where he’s ready.
Everyone has a much needed moment of levity when they start sorting the raccoon penis bones. Except… everyone glosses over things that make them uncomfortable. There is a burning hellfire pulpit in the room that everyone is pretending isn’t there.
Dr. Green wants him to confront his parents, thereby getting to the root of his hoarding.
“You think being gay is a sin,” Nathan says to his father.
“I do. But I can’t judge someone,” his father replies, and I so appreciated him adding that last bit. I obviously don’t agree with the sin, but I can respect someone feeling how they feel and not imposing that on others (anymore).
“I can’t heal myself if I can’t accept who I am.”
And then cue the waterworks, because Dad, lip trembling and visibly emotional, says, “Nathan, I accept you the way you are. Will you accept me the way I am? I’m not asking you to change. I think you’re asking me to change.”
Guys? Often times that is all a person needs to hear, that you see them, you acknowledge the person they are, and that you aren’t going to try to change them. And it goes both ways.
Nathan admits that he does wish he could change his father’s convictions, but Dr. Green wants them to know that ideals don’t have to be in alignment for everyone to get along.
“You don’t have to have the consent of anyone. It shouldn’t make you feel bad,” his father says, crying. This dad is doing the best he can, and I want to be fair and appreciative for this effort. I’d love for him to change his beliefs, too, but this alone is huge.
His mother comes in the room and reminds him that while they’re all different people, it doesn’t mean they love him any less. (It’s also important to say those things, and often.) Dr. Green challenges him to let it go and move forward. He steps into his dad’s arms and lets himself be dad-hugged for what might be the first time in a long while.
And that’s your reminder that everyone needs eight hugs for optimal mental health. Go grab one and I’ll wait for you.
The cleanup moves on very quickly—Nathan is growing up past his arrested childhood. And when he goes back inside, it looks wonderful. A great bachelor pad, honestly. Standolyn says she can see him stand a little taller, a little stronger.
He’s very grateful. “I saw my dad’s heart. I saw my mom’s heart and my brother’s, too. This is a really beautiful experience for me.” Jason tells him he’s proud of him, and that encites a group hug.
After The Show
While Nathan was happy about the clean up and the healing, he chose to move from his home to live with his father. That relationship is his top priority, and how awesome is that? Almost 20 years of a strained relationship, and they’re both making it a priority. I love it. That was some awesome growth on everyone’s part.
He is also seeing a therapist, which I think will prove to be marvelous for him as well.
I think it’s so important to remember that while I may not share people’s viewpoints, I’m not going to go after them in a derisive way for not thinking as I do. I want to commend Nathan’s dad for clearly reaching beyond his comfort zone to simply love his son. That was beautiful. And that, my friends, is what empathy looks like. Let’s remember to show some of our own. Being empathetic doesn’t mean you condone a person’s behavior, it means you’re trying to understand how they have gotten to where they have.