I want to give warning that Stacey is an animal hoarder. As an animal lover (and a mom) I find her story incredibly frustrating and upsetting, and I know some of you will, as well. There is a relatively good outcome if that helps you in the long run. Roi, an absolute sweetheart of a man, is simply an object hoarder living on his own.
Stacey, Denham Spring, Louisiana
Everywhere you look there are barking dogs. Every window is filthy from dirty dog paws and noses, and every window is filled with the face of a barking, attention-seeking dog. There are crates both inside and out filled with dogs, some crates are stacked on top of each other. There are cats sequestered in the kitchen, all living on top of shelves and cabinets, the litter boxes are on the stove and counter tops.
Stacey has no idea how many animals she has, they just keep having babies. The show puts a bumper up: “Nearly 50 cats and dogs are trapped in her house.” The house is not large, and the animals seem to be taking over the living-dining room and the kitchen. The rest of the house is filled with clothes, boxes, and other paraphernalia.
Janice is Stacey’s mother, and she has not been inside the home in 11 years. The cameras cut to the door being cracked open and dogs jumping at the space. The furniture in the house has been chewed to literal ribbons. Stuffing, litter, excrement and all manner of filth cover every inch of every surface. Dante is Stacey’s adult son, and he has moved in with her to help her address her situation, but realizes they need help.
Stacey, who is living in Louisiana, has no air conditioning. It gets to triple digits inside the house, and she locks the animals in to go to work for 9 hours or more a day. As the camera pans across the sea of barking, panting dogs standing on all of the destroyed furniture and filth, I notice a straw broom – the decorative kind – on the wall over a doorway.
Angela works with Animal Control. After the police were called regarding the constant barking, she came out and saw the swarm of aggressive, loud, smelly animals. She tells us that Stacey will be losing animals either by choice or by force – animals will be leaving this house.
Taylor is Stacey’s daughter. She no longer lives in the home, having been forced out because of the mess. She is staying with a relative, but wishes to live with her mother again. As long as the house is clean, that is. Her feelings are hurt due to her mother choosing the animals over her. Stacey tells the camera with love in her face that her animals are like her children.
She hasn’t gotten rid of any yet because she doesn’t “know where they’ll end up.” She assumes the county will take them to be destroyed, not realizing they have no quality of life in her home. The situation in her house is so dire that she has gained a horrible German cockroach infestation. She put out a “massive amount” of poison to control them, and began noticing cats dead in the morning. According to her they didn’t exhibit any signs of being ill before she went to bed, she would just wake to find them that way.
I noticed a contradiction here when she later says that sure, she could have picked one cat out of the many to take to a vet to find out why they’re sick, but she didn’t. I thought you didn’t realize they were sick until you found them dead? This is one of the many truths skirted by an animal hoarder. She goes on to say that she maybe has lost eight cats this way.
Taylor tells us that she can’t have a normal life because of her mom’s decisions. This is the big tragedy with hoarding: the developmental damage done to children forced to grow up in these horrid conditions. (She at least had the chance to get away from the house. The animals haven’t been as lucky.)
Dr. Suzanne Chabaud will help push Stacey to some realizations about her animal hoarding. As she arrives, she tries to open the door and quietly tells the barking dogs, “Shh. Down, down. Shh.” Because the dogs are so aggressive towards the door, she tells Stacey they can’t go inside, so they find an outdoor location to speak. Dr. Chabaud tells us the air inside is utterly toxic.
Stacey explains that years ago she found a pregnant dog on the side of the road. And the puppies grew up and had puppies, and so on. Let me take a moment to remind you all that if you have an animal, it is the RESPONSIBLE CHOICE to have them spayed or neutered. And there are several outfits that will provide either free or low-cost procedures. They will work with you, because it saves shelters in the long run.
Dr. Chabaud turns the conversation to Stacey’s children. Without visible emotion, Stacey says that Taylor isn’t living in the home, then states that she believes herself to be a good mom. (I’m assuming her thought process is that she understands on a fundamental level that the house isn’t ideal, so not having Taylor there means she’s doing the right thing? It’s convoluted, yes.) She goes on to tell the doctor that “I always put my kids first.”
“Except for this time,” Dr. Chabaud challenges.
“Yes,” Stacey reluctantly agrees. This will not be the only time that the doctor tries to show Stacey the disconnect with her thinking and the reality of her life. The doctor goes on to ask her if any of her animals have died due to the living conditions in the house.
“I did have some cats die,” she answers, then pauses. “Because of roach poison. Maybe. We’re not sure.”
But Stacey, I want to ask, why did you have to use roach poison?
A fleet of vehicles from Animal Rescue pull up. Stacey begins to sob. “If I wasn’t allowed to keep any of my animals, I’d be devastated.”
Dorothy Breininger is her organizer and she tells us that with an animal hoarder, it’s all about getting the animals out first. Then you deal with the trauma and the mess after. Dr. Norris is a forensics vet that has been brought back. (She worked with Hannah and is the kind woman that held one of Hannah’s chickens as it died in her hand.) Her goal is to bring the animals out one by one, vaccinate them, and then send them to no-kill shelters.
Dorothy asks Taylor how she’s feeling in the morning meeting. She has a smile on her face and tells the group she’s excited. Stacey, on the other hand, is getting emotional and says it’s going to be a very hard day. Dr. Chabaud reminds her that today she’s recovering her family. (I really love Dr. Chabaud.)
Dr. Norris goes inside in full haz-mat gear and walks unafraid through a throng of jumping, barking, posturing dogs. (She is the true dog wheesper-er.) We see more fully how the cats have been trapped up high in the kitchen, forced to live on the narrow shelves above the stove. The dogs are easily taken outside, the vast majority are super friendly and affectionate, licking the helpers. A few growl and require muzzles, we see that several of the older dogs have bite marks on their faces from both other dogs and fleas.
The caged dogs are in the worst shape. They have staph infections and many that were put in crates with multiple dogs are starving. She makes excuses for not noticing, saying that all of the dogs got a bath the week before, and gosh, she just didn’t see any of these problems. The Drs. Chabaud and Norris show tremendous patience with her; again and again they show her the affect of her disease, that her imagined love for these animals is what has brought these hardships.
Dr. Norris is often shown holding a dog kissing its snout or head while administering a vaccine, speaking softly and lovingly to each of them. One puppy in particular is so starved that it most likely would have died within days. Dr. Chabaud chastizes her (gently, but firmly) that even though she claims to be on top of things, she “didn’t see this, did you?”
Unfortunately, it seems Stacey is so overwrought that she’s unable to fully grasp the severity of this situation. Don’t expect any “a-ha!” moments with her during the show (although Dr. Chabaud has said recently that Stacey has made strides since filming.)
The outdoor dogs are brought in separately to be tested for heart-worms. A vet tells her that outside dogs – without preventative care – are 100% likely to contract heart-worms. As expected, the dogs test positive for them. She’s asked if she’s noticed any of the symptoms: coughing, tiredness, loss in physical activity. “No, I’ve never noticed any problems. But we did lose their sister recently.”
The dogs will die without treatment, which can run from $600 – $800 per animal. She cannot afford it, but she cannot bring herself to surrender them to a facility or person who can care for them. She asks her children, “What do you think, should be keep them?”
Taylor looks completely frustrated and says no. Finally, Stacey relents. The dogs are moved to large, clean crates to await transport. They’re all friendly and relaxed in their clean, open spaces.
It’s time to address the cats. There are 13 of them confined to the kitchen. One has a serious eye infection and is panting from the heat. Dr. Norris says that for the most part they just need their vaccinations, but until they get tested, they won’t know for sure. They bring out the net and catch the cats as they scramble for cover.
Dr. Norris catches Stacey moving cats outside from crate to crate. She says tersely to the whole group, “We need to stop playing and get these animals out now.” The helpers move the crates to their air conditioned vehicles, one of which has a prominent “Spay and Neuter!” sticker on the back.
Animal Control arrives. Angela tells the camera that Stacey has shown to not be able to properly care for even one animal (not one has up to date vaccines) but legally she can’t stop Stacey from having the county limit, up to five dogs and up to five cats, without her having any cruelty charges against her. (Note: now that Stacey is fully cognizant of the rules and laws, any mistreatment can be considered cruelty from this point on.)
Dr. Chabaud is disgusted by this, says it doesn’t make any sense, and that she wishes Stacey wouldn’t take on any new animals. Dante tells the group that he’s sure she can do it, though! Angela reminds her that Animal Control is keeping a vigilant eye out on the house.
Now that the animals are out, they can attempt to clean. Everyone is in full haz-mat gear with heavy duty ventilators. They take everything out. The house is utterly disgusting. There are piles of excrement behind boards on the windows (presumably to keep the dogs from breaking the glass) and snow shovels are required to scrape the filth from the windows and walls.
Dorothy brings everyone into the kitchen to show them the state of the house. She asks Stacey’s mother Janice if she’s ever been there. “No.” Now Janice really gets it, she thought it was bad, but she didn’t understand the depth of what bad could entail. There are shit stains every where. Urine is soaked into every surface. Dirt and roach droppings cover the remainder. Taylor was living in this house until recently.
Dorothy runs through the containment gear her team is wearing and turns to Stacey: “because it is that DANGEROUS in here.” She’s usually her sweet mid-western self, but she turns into a pit bull when children need advocacy. I really love Dorothy Breininger. Dorothy is absolutely incensed about the situation this child has been forced to live in, and angry that Stacey refuses to acknowledge her part in it. She’s worried about Taylor coming back into the house to live, as it’s just not livable by normal standards.
The workers find a mummified cat and bring it to Stacey. This is a direct result of her lifestyle. She cries, but because she had thought she was “in the pantry” or had “maybe gotten out.”
Dr. Chabaud asks her if she needs ten animals to be who she is. “Yes.”
After The Show:
Stacey is working with both an organizer and a therapist, and Taylor has moved back in. Along with nine animals, four dogs and five cats.
Roi, Dayton, Ohio
Roi is on disability and lives in the home he’s owned since the late 1960s. His house is full. And I mean his house is full. Boxes and furniture and unidentifiable stuff is jammed up to the ceiling. There is no visible space above the vast majority of items in the house. The yard and porch are also filled to bursting. Roi has gone to jail twice already for code violations, once for five days and another time for 19 days. He’ll go back to jail if this isn’t cleaned out.
Tamra is his daughter, who he has been estranged from for decades. They’re trying to forge a new relationship, but he needs a place where she can actually enter. (There is just enough room in his five bedroom home for him to squeeze through to his bed upstairs. He is a very slender man, at that.) his home has electricity, but no heat.
Forty years ago he suffered a fire – he didn’t lose everything and attempted to salvage all he could. Kind people brought him replacement items and he continued to re-acquire furniture and clothes and appliances and so on. His house is the result of almost four decades of non-stop acquisitions.
A few weeks ago he had a dangerous situation: a gas leak that went undetected for days. He couldn’t access the gas line in the basement, as the basement is completely filled. (Again, floor to ceiling, items wedged into any available crack.) The fire department came out to shut the gas off and told him that should a fire happen, they would not be able to get to him to save his life. The camera shows plugs into outlets into power cords into more plugs. There are octopus-like plug configurations in every single outlet in the house.
Dr. Kutz will be his guide through this process. He asks Roi if he can see his living space. Roi laughs and says, “At your own risk!” Dr. Kutz, also a very slender man, turns sideways to force himself through the narrow channel cut into the mountains of things to squeeze himself towards Roi’s mattress, piled on top of another mound of items. It’s his only living space in the entire three story home.
“Why do you think you live like this, if you had to answer?”
Roi smiles and says, “Well, people gave me things, I bought things, I found things…things that were perfectly good! And I like little things.” Even his answers are too much – too many words and redundancies. (He is a very kind man, though. He appears to be a very quiet, courteous and gentle person.)
He has a lot of self-awareness: “I’m trying to give stuff away, but it’s difficult that I can’t make decisions on what to do.”
Matt Paxton is his personal organizer. He tells us that you have to be careful with every step in that house. At the morning meeting, Matt reminds everyone that they’re here because of the love and concern they all have for Roi, who is visibly moved. Roi tells the group, “I’ve been wanting to get out of this for a long time and I know I’m my biggest enemy in it.”
The first step is recognition, right?
They start outside, and he seems to be making some good decisions, even if he does want to keep random things like skate wheels. Big and obviously destroyed items like a mangled box spring are tossed with ease. While this is going on, Dr. Katz takes Tamra inside to see the house, to help her try and understand that this is an illness, not stubbornness. She gets it, but she doesn’t understand it. Mostly it just makes her sad that someone in her family comes home to that chaos every single day.
The camera continues to cut to a picture of Tamra as a little girl with her dad, and Roi is wearing a snazzy 70’s patchwork leather jacket, and they both have huge grins. It’s utterly adorable, and it’s very touching that he’s kept that one picture visible this whole time.
While Roi likes looking at that picture, he’s unable to see the big picture of the clean up. He wants to keep things like dirty socks and single gloves – there is potential use in most things for him. Matt goes off alone to open the door to the basement, and we hear him groan and say, “Oh god, this room!” The basement is packed full all the way up the stairs and to the door. It’s unprecendented, the sheer volume of the hoard in this house.
Day One ends with only enough items removed to allow Matt, Tamra, and Roi to stand together in the entryway. Matt lays it out for them: he wants to create access to the heater and gas so Roi can get to fixing it. Roi struggles with getting rid of things in the home while Tamra says, “Do you understand if you’ve not seen or touched something in five years then you can live without it?” He scoffs to himself, quietly, that how can she know if he doesn’t need something? Maybe if he could get to it, he’ll remember if he can use it!
Matt’s team gets the stairs cleared enough to see the basement, and they find that it’s flooded with at least two to three feet of water. Everything in there has been soaking in standing water, so it’s got to be trashed, period. Roi is visibly upset by this. The city is called to come shut off the water. Now he has no heat, no gas, and no water.
Roi scrambles to find anything in the basement before the team takes it. Matt is patient for a minute, then tells him that if he can manage to take something dry from any of the Clutter Cleaners’ hands without wrestling it, he can keep it. I love that Matt learns how to use humor with each individual to build a relationship of trust.
The clean up goes to unfunny fast when more of the basement is cleared out. Seven of the support beams are completely cracked. My guess is that the boxes of stuff in the basement, piled to the ceiling, were keeping the floor from caving in. The house is near collapse. Remember there are two floors completely filled above the basement. The city inspector is called out and everyone is ordered out of the house for their own safety.
The inspector comes out and carefully moves through the house taking pictures of structural damage on the main floor and in the basement. He has a kind demeanor about him, as well, and I got the sense that Roi really listened to him. He tells Roi that the house will need to be condemned (I wonder if this is a measure to also keep Roi from any jail time?) and that it’s simply not safe to enter. If Roi fell, the whole house would collapse around him.
Roi tells the camera that he understands that the inspector was looking out for him, and you get the idea that he was appreciative of it. When asked what’s next, Roi says that he’s going to move in with his sister and “try to not be in the way.” (Bless his heart.) He says, “I’m gonna go keep her company for a while.” I love that type of old school gentility, what a sweet man stuck in a horrible situation.
Matt tells us that physically they failed – the house wasn’t emptied. But they did save his life, so it should be counted as a success.
After the show:
Roi, still living with his sister, is seeing a therapist and is attempting to make repairs on his house. He was able to clear out three more dumpsters of garbage and held a yard sale. Unfortunately he was unable to part with many of the things intended to be sold.
I’ve heard from Matt that his church got involved after the crew left and has been helping him. He really is cleaning out his house, it won’t be bulldozed. He’s taking it one box at a time, and keeping on. His sister has not allowed him to hoard her place (but he’s focused on getting help, so I’m thinking it wasn’t much of an issue.) So wonderful to hear that he’s taking those great steps, good job, Roi!
Thoughts On The Show:
I know Stacey is the more polarizing, so I’ll address Roy first. I’m shocked he’s able to make any repairs to the house, quite frankly, given the severe structural damage. I assume he’s going to need to remove the hoard before the beams can be repaired or replaced. I’ve asked Matt Paxton for clarification, if he’s able to answer, I’ll update this portion of the post.
He really was a sweet man, Roi, and I hope that he’s able to understand that he truly is his own worst enemy when it comes to this condition. I just wish him all the best, he was quite the sassy old gent.
As for Stacey, I had a visceral reaction to her home, to the animals, and especially to her daughter. I can’t help it, I’m a mom, and I’m that mom, the one that isn’t afraid to step in and tell someone to stop hitting their child in a store, etc. You have to speak up for those that can’t, that’s my life’s philosophy.
Okay, so given that, I asked Dorothy Breininger for clarification and she said that she was incredibly frustrated with the situation, as well, and she will always be an advocate for those who can help themselves. (See why I adore her?) I asked about Dante, as he struck me as an enabler. She told me that some of the animals were his from before, so he had an interest in getting some back. Also, Janice is way more attentive to that house now that she’s seen where it was, and there are plans to do massive renovations to make the house safe. (A bio-hazard specialist was brought in, actually. That’s how toxic that house was.)
Dr. Chabaud posted something that gave me a lot to think about, reminding us all that animal hoarders are the most difficult cases, far more than object hoarders. They also have a 99% recidivism rate. When people attack them, that makes them go further under ground. They’re afraid to seek help, they believe they will go to jail or their animals will be destroyed and this causes them to do nothing. She says, “Condemning guests of the show will only make other hoarders less likely to seek treatment.”
I obviously do not condone animal abuse, and I’m assuming none of you do, as well. But I’m going to try and take a page out of Dr. Chabaud’s book and not approve of the behavior and try and understand why the behavior is there, especially if by me not blowing my top could mean that there’s any chance someone reading this won’t regress or might cause them to seek help.
But I won’t lie: it’s going to take a lot.