Hoarders 8.8 – Peggy, Connie and Ed

hoarders mental illness reality

[Previous episode]

Warning. One of our hoarders, Peggy, is an animal hoarder. There are no living animals in this hoard; you will not see any animals suffering. It’s awful. We all know it’s awful. This show helps identify these folks, get them on ASPCA watch lists (to protect future animals from being “rescued”) and the hardworking crew of Hoarders either gets the animals into healthy, safe environments or gently and responsibly euthanizes them. The crew usually suffers a lot of heartache on these episodes, but they’re doing real good. It’s hard to watch. I know. If you need to skip, please do.

Please do not insult the hoarder. We all know it’s not fair, right or just. Calling names and being outraged here in comments will not do anything constructive. Let’s get to the bottom of why this happens so we can hopefully stop future animal hoarders.

Peggy, Illinois

Peggy knows she’s a hoarder. Well, that’s a change from the previous episode, at least. The camera cuts inside and there are piles of stuff, which we expect, but when you look closely, you see that a lot of the boxes aren’t boxes. They are cages. Bird cages, small animals cages, that sort of thing. There are no animals that I can see inside them. Peggy thinks she’s got “some dishes in the sink, but other than that it’s not in too bad of shape.” Yes. It is. It’s in terrible shape.

Denial is a big part of what enables hoarders to live like this. Think about it. It’s got to smell like god knows what in there, the mold and dirt are creeping up the walls, the trash-a-lanches rumble and tumble regularly. But if she acknowledges that, then she has to acknowledge that it needs to change and take responsibility for making it that way. So that step is purposefully missed so it can start back again at the beginning, miss that step, then go back, again and again. An endless cycle of seeing trees instead of the forest.

Ron is the local code enforcer. He says it’s the worst house he’s ever seen. The stench is unbearable. The toilet is clogged (and filled), there is a bucket next to it that is filled with both feces and maggots, and this house is a nightmare of biohazard issues, full stop.

Kim, Peggy’s friend, has tried to get help from the fire department, which is how the city got involved. They say the house is uninhabitable, and I agree fully. When asked about the dead carcases in the cages throughout the house, Peggy says she was too anguished to throw them out or dispose of them.

Here’s the thing. I bet she was. I bet she was anguished and upset that these animals she kept to “give them love/a home” died. She had a mental picture of them being happy and healthy, and all because of her. But that isn’t the reality, and that pushed her to see that forest, so to speak. That’s painful. That’s a lot of responsibility she’s going to have to take on. Instead, however, because she is mentally ill, she tells herself it was a freak occurrence, that the animal was sick when she acquired it, that it was the animal’s time, whatever the case by case is, and then she tells herself that she’ll do better with the next animal. And the next one. And so on.

This is mental illness at some of its worst.

Peggy is living on her daughter Ruth’s porch since the house was shut up. She knows her mother is very, very ill. At one point when Peggy was on a trip, Ruth and some folks from the church cleaned out the house, and it sent Peggy in a rage spiral. She does not want people touching her stuff without her permission. Hooboy, this is going to be a tough one.

Paul, Peggy’s son, says it’s always been this way. This drove his dad bananas. When he died, the hoarding got worse because there was no one to push back at Peggy. The kids would get hit if they ever challenged their mother. Ruth says her mother has said many times that she hates Ruth. That she believed in abortion, and if Ruth had never been born, their father wouldn’t have died. She was 15 and had to be hospitalized because she attempted suicide, thinking she killed her father. Oh. Okay, this one is going to be tough for me, guys.I want to give Ruth all the hugs in the world.

As I said last episode, we can try to understand the disease in a calm, even-toned manner, but that doesn’t mean that we’re condoning this sort of behavior. Mental illness is not an excuse for abuse. Ever.

And if you don’t love Ruth, she says this: “Just because she’s an angry soul doesn’t mean I have to be.” Ruth? I think you’re a work and a wonder, let me just tell you.

Mark Pfeffer is there to tour with the kids. He really wants the kids and Peggy to go in because as he says, “It’s not just the smell and the squalor. It’s the memories, it’s the decades of hoarder abuse.” This must be confronted if there is to be any moving forward. (Again, I love when the show gives us these types of insight into treatment.)

Paul steps in, then immediately steps out. “There’s no point.” Ruth made it a little further, then we see her shaking as she tries to smoke. Mark asks Peggy about the bird cages. “What’s in them now?” he asks.


“Are there dead birds in there?” Oh, this is a brilliant question. There isn’t nothing inside. There is her failing to care for a living creature. She must take responsibility for it. But will she?

“Don’t ask hard questions like that. It’s a difficult question for me.”

Mark says her denial infrastructure is highly developed. I think she’s also got some highly developed manipulation skills, too, another aspect of hoarding and survival we’ve come across, haven’t we?

Peggy doesn’t want to talk about the carcasses. “I have a hard time looking at this stuff.” But… you lived with them. For a very long time. This isn’t new. These cages and dead bodies and filth aren’t new. She says that she is ashamed of many things and won’t talk about them. Well, that’s not going to fly when the garbage trucks come.

The next morning, the Got Junk? trucks pull in with Dorothy Breininger, who tells us that there is a biohazard team who will be there first, something usually only necessary in an anthrax event. (That was a big Clue-By-Four Dorothy was smacking her with, but I don’t think Peggy got it.) The biohazard team suits up with special rebreathers and helmets. Wow.

The cages are carted out first. Dorothy sadly says, “This is a hoard of death. They just keep bringing out more death.” There are puppies, small animals, I just… It’s bad. “These animals died because of pure neglect.”

She corrals the family together and wants Peggy to say she’s sorry to these animals. “But I’m not sorry. I didn’t do it.”

Hand me that clue-by-four.

“I took them for their rabies shots. Within ten days, they were dead.”

Mark cuts her off. “It was on your watch.” Thank you, Mark. He tells us, “They hold onto these things to maintain control.” Well, I can understand that idea. Their life is pure chaos. This house? This house is pure chaos. If she can create a narrative absolving her of blame, then she hasn’t lost control of the situation.

I didn’t say that it’s right, just that I understand what’s happening.

Ruth steps in, “Just say you’re sorry for not burying them.” When her mother balks, she says again, “But today you get that chance to right the wrong done. Once it happens, you can release that guilt. Because not only are you healing yourself, with you being the mom we need, you’re healing us. And that’s the only way we’re going to get over it.

Seriously, Team Ruth all the way.

Peggy hugs her, I almost bite through my tongue in shock, and she decides she wants forgiveness. She prays an apology for not helping the animals, for not being who she should be, and asks her God to forgive her. Well, it’s a step. Dorothy wraps her in her arms and tells her that was a good job.

25 dead animals pulled out. 25 animals that Peggy is finally taking responsibility for, and that’s great for her kids to see. And now Peggy is ready to work.

I take it back. Peggy was. But as the things are pulled out of the house, she delights in everything, showing it to her daughter, wanting Ruth to agree that it’s pretty or neat or special. Paul’s face crumples. So much for progress.

Dorothy says this is one of the worst hoards she’s ever been in. The floor is soaked in wet filth, urine, feces, who knows what else. We see the crews lifting dripping, sodden rugs from the moldy subflooring. Nothing is salvageable. But Peggy wants to keep it. Paul is at his wits’ end. “It’s your things or us.”

“But Paul,” Peggy says with a plaintive voice, “I need it.” It’s a crotched thingamabob, the sort of thing my grandmother slapped around the air freshener spray bottle. No one on earth needs this, especially when it’s covered in poop, urine and visible termites.

Mark tries explaining that she is literally choosing things over her children. Again. These teachable moments keep passing her by. This clean up feels doomed.

Queue the biohazard team using industrial vacs to suck the shit out of the floor and toilets. Sorry, not couching my terminology here. The crews are literally slipping and sliding on the amount of fecal matter on the floor. (God, the poor crew…) They have to take things down to the subflooring. And that will most likely have to go, too.

Dorothy wants the family to understand just how unsafe this is. Kidneys are affected by that level of ammonia. Your lungs. This is no joke. This is the sort of thing we saw with Terry a few years back, where animals literally died from the smell. (The ammonia, but since you breath it in… You follow.) “You were killing yourself.”

Peggy admits that she’s in Stage Four renal failure. Paul is positively gobsmacked by this information. For those unaware, this means she will absolutely need dialysis at best, a kidney transplant at worst. This is 15% functionality. And these kids’ dad died of kidney failure. Ruth is beyond upset. “It’s not okay to us.” Their mother has hit the bottom of the barrel.

“The barrel keeps getting deeper,” Paul says with tears in his eyes. “Soon it’s going to be six feet under.”

Mark points out that Peggy said she wanted to make amends with her children, but she doesn’t really have a response. At that, Paul says he’s done and leaves. It’s hard to blame him. He doesn’t come back the next morning.

Peggy, however, says she’s ready to let it go. “It’s just got to go. I got to thinking, I love my kids more than all that junk.

Well, hallelujah and pass the peas, that is outstanding! She’s ready to make big changes, it seems.

The code enforcement team is brought in. The floors are spongy. Pretty sure subflooring isn’t meant to look like barely-set mud. There’s a lot of mold everywhere. Ron, the CE officer, presses his foot against the wall and it goes straight through. “Nobody should be living in this house.” Yeah.

Surprise, though, when Paul returns to patch things up, just in time to hear that the house cannot be inhabited. Peggy takes the time to say to her kids that she wants to fight, and that it’s time to fight for them.

Paul hears it, but he wants action, not promises. I don’t blame him.

“If you holler for help, and someone comes to help you,” Peggy says, “then you owe it to them to change.”

Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

Ed and Connie, Woods Cross, Utah

Connie and Ed are self-defined Halloween freaks. 50% of their stuff is probably related to the holiday. They both admit they’re hoarders, and that’s a start. The house has a few rabbit trails breaking through shoulder-high piles of stuff, but that’s just the living room. The hoard has spread much further, including outside.

Vickie, Connie’s sister, explains that Connie is the small stuff hoarder, and Ed does big ticket items. Fisher, their 14-year-old son, has grown up like this as has Hunter, 17, who has absolutely had it. He’s tried to leave, in fact. Vickie knows they want out. Fisher is autistic, so this is horrible. The chaos exacerbates autism. He uses the bathroom as a place to escape. It’s messy in there, but it’s the most organized place in the house.  Outside there’s a tent, the “Tent of Shame.” There’s also a “basement of despair”. Hunter is tired of fighting with his mom and dad over the state of the house.

Ed has had cancer 5 times, and he’s living in this unhealthy environment. The family says the biggest cancer in that house is the hoard. Ed is finally in a place where he sees how tenuous life is and wants to choose time with his boys over the stuff. The hold out, it seems, is Connie not being on the same page.

Connie feels ganged up on, so there’s a lot of pushback and division happening. Hunter, though, is beyond caring. He’s going to leave if it won’t change, and he’s taking Fisher with him.

Dr. Suzanne Chabaud meets with Connie’s cousin Shawna for a walk-through and a meet up with the family. Fisher says that he’s very lonely in this house. There’s no company but objects. And for someone on the spectrum, he absolutely needs social interactions that are healthy. It’s a must.

“Hoarding takes away the human connection,” Dr. Chabaud tells us.

As Connie walks through on her own, she realizes “This is a slow death.” She feels helpless, so imagine how Connie and Ed, Fisher and Hunter must feel.

Cory Chalmers arrives with Steri-Clean, and hey, this is close to your new digs, man! Another great pairing, and I think Fisher and Hunter are going to connect with Cory pretty easily. However, when it starts, Connie goes through everything piece by piece. Cory can see that Connie is confused and not able to really understand things, so they promise to only throw away visible garbage, and box up the rest to be put in the back yard. He puts her back there to start sorting.

It’s very hard for her. She has to find this one random lid that fits this one random container, and Cory takes it from her. “What if you lost it? What would happen?” This is an excellent tool for people with anxiety. Okay, here is what you fear. What is going to happen if this occurs? Well, she won’t be able to store something in that container. Okay, what happens if you can’t use that container?

This is the sort of thought process that is going to happen over and over and over until she realizes that nothing is going to happen. It’s okay if it’s gone. It’s okay. But she’s not there yet. The place she’s stuck in is “But I need this lid,” not “But my family is going to leave.”

Vickie has to walk off to cry. She’s so sad about the state of this house. Cory tells Connie that the reality is this: the boys want to run away and leave her with her stuff. Ed’s visibly upset. “It’s my life’s energy. And I want to come home and not see all the clutter.”

Dr. Chabaud is very concerned for the state of this marriage, frankly. Cory tells them that they’ve tried other things. Now try it his way. “You just have to trust us.”

Connie, her eyes big and watery, nods and appears overwhelmed. I can just imagine. She decides to put her boys first. Hunter and Fisher are allowed to clean for the first time ever, and they’re having a ball tossing stuff into the trash, being sarcastic and hilarious. They’re having a great time hanging out, and that’s so awesome to see.

However, Connie is still struggling with sorting through everything. Dr. Chabaud says it’s time to be impulsive. Big decision time instead of focusing on little things.

Connie starts Day Two upset. She tells Ed that she stood by him without reservation during his cancer treatment. So he’s going to leave her? Well, I see her point. For better or worse. This is definitely worse.

“I can’t give you cancer,” he replies. “But this home is making me sick. It’s making the boys sick.”

Well, I see his point.

Cory wants to see Connie stay calm and make strides. He puts her and Ed in the bedroom to work. She loves him very much, and he loves her, and this is just a bad situation. I just hope she can have her breakthrough moment.

Hunter is pissed at her, though. “It’s just things.”

Connie feels bullied by the guys not siding with her. She can’t make these big sweeping decisions. Dr. Chabaud tells her that she didn’t come all this way to leave Connie with a nervous breakdown. Everything that was taken out of the house and boxed or bagged gets dragged back to the basement or the tent. The master bedroom is still full. The main living areas and the boys’ rooms are cleaned, at least.

They go through the house, and at last the living spaces are great. They are. Connie still struggles with the loss of her things, and something tells me there is a big surface to scratch there. The boys, at least, are pleased with their spaces being cleaned and orderly.

Ed tells us that hoarding is an illness and, “I’m going to be there to take care of her.” He tells Connie while tenderly brushing the hair off her forehead, “I’m falling in love with the girl I first met.” He’s a good man, oh my gosh. Hunter even acknowledges that his mom took big steps, and “I shouldn’t be mad.” Holy smokes, these are good boys! Hunter, you’re a good kid.

Well, baby steps are still steps.

After the Show

Peggy checks on the house daily, sorting through the remaining boxes of stuff and is looking into repairs. While she hasn’t yet met with a therapist, she does say she feels closer to her children more than ever. So that’s really great. I tell you what, if you’d asked me in the beginning who would be a success and who wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have pegged Peggy over Connie and Ed. I’m happy to be wrong.

Connie and the family are in therapy, good for you guys, and the family is elated by the clean spaces and the ability to have friends over. Gosh, that is so important for those boys. I’m proud of them for managing that much.

Let’s take a moment to realize that in these houses where even the pros are gagging and coughing at the stench, there are cameramen and audio techs standing in the filth. These folks are unsung heroes, so I just want to acknowledge how hard their day job is. God knows I couldn’t do it.

You can watch all episodes of Season 8 (and 1-6) on A&E.com, as well as On Demand through your local cable provider.