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October 5, 2008

My neighbor is a hoarder


The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding as:

The excessive collection of items that seem to have limited or no value, such as newspapers or trash, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding creates such cramped living conditions that entire rooms may be filled to capacity, and homes may be left with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping hundreds of dogs, cats or other animals in their homes, as filth and waste pile up and the animals become sick.

Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, is thought to be connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder. But many aspects of hoarding remain a mystery, and researchers continue to learn about this recently recognized problem.

This, I’ve learned recently, is the deal with a neighbor.

I’ll call her “Esther.” She’s probably in her mid-50s and owns a modest three-bedroom house that sits on a rather large parcel of land (about one acre). From the outside, her house looks like a dump, and, yes, its appearances causes consternation among neighbors. You know, the front yard is full of overgrown weeds and miscellaneous flowering plants she put in a half-hearted attempt at landscaping.

She’s been a vague sort of neighborhood nuisance for years for allowing deer, raccoons and other critters to breed in her back acre. My neighborhood isn’t exactly rural. It’s within a mile of downtown Walnut Creek, California, a major San Francisco suburb that has about 63,000 residents. However, my neighborhood backs up against what they call here in California “open space”—hillsides studded with grasses and oaks, though those undeveloped acres in my neighborhood are diminishing and becoming homes to McMansions and other small, new developments.

With regard to the deer, Esther leaves the side gate to her back yard open, so the deer wander onto our street and into other people’s yards. They ate the buds of some tomatoes that I, in one of my half-hearted attempts at gardening, planted. The destruction of my tomatoes made me briefly contemplate joining the National Rifle Association and arming myself with the kind of weaponry that would pick off those tick-ridden Bambis—one by one.

As for the raccoons, I guess they got into the basement of one of Esther’s next-door neighbor’s. I'll call that neighbor “Paula." Paula had to hire an exterminator or some other professional to get it out.

Paula is my source for various bits of news related to Esther’s hoarding disorder. Paula used to work as a nurse, which makes her rather practical, compassionate and knowledgeable about dealing with different individuals and their mental idiosyncrasies. So, Paula says, Esther lives in cramped living quarters, similar to those who meet the Mayo Clinic definition for hoarding. Entire rooms in Esther's home are filled to capacity with junk. She must move through one part of a room to the other, or from one part of her house to the other, through narrow pathways of clutter.

And that deer-breeding back yard? It’s a fire hazard, and, according to Paula, the fire department had to come out, inspect it, and declare it so. Apparently, the back yard was a tangle of brush and weeds. Some clumps stood as high and as wide as a garage door. This was incendiary bone-dry, California drought-parched brush and weeds. The smallest spark from fireplace, barbecue or cigarette ash could set it off. And some of this tangle backed up to adjacent neighbor’s property lines, including Paula's.

Saddest of all, Esther had a trio of cats she proclaims to love but who were apparently neglected—at least according to Paula, who would slip them food. One of those cats was once a friendy, fluffy white cat, whose name is something like “Bobby.” When my now 10-year-old son was little, and before we got a cat of our own, we would sometimes encounter Bobby rolling around happily on our driveway. He was a sweet cat. My son, then 4, would love crouching down to pet Bobby, who wasn’t afraid of strangers and was not the kind of cat who would suddenly lash out at anyone, including a small child who could be clumsy in how he stroked an animal.

Several months ago, I happened to be home late one weekday afternoon and saw a county animal services truck roll up to Esther’s home. Esther was not yet home, and the officer left a note posted on her front door screen. And then, she pulled up, home from work. She actually drives a newer model Volkswagon that always looks shiny, clean and nicely maintained. The animal services officer approached her, and she admitted him into her probably cluttered living room.

Paula says a neighbor complained about the sad, neglected condition of her cats, including Bobby. I’ve seen Bobby a few times over the past couple months. He’s not the same fearless, friendly cat that my son used to pet. I see him crouching on Esther’s driveway, near the garage door, looking sad and weak. And I can see, even from across the street, that his ears always look scabbed. Paula says Bobby got one of his ears half chewed off in a fight—presumably with one of the raccoons that Esther lets breed in her yard.

I mentioned that Esther works. Yes, she does. She’s a manager for a government agency, in a department that actually requires lots of organization and attention to meticulous detail. I guess she’s one way in her professional life, and another way in her personal life.

I don’t speak to her much, except hellos across the street, as either she or I are coming or going. She's always nice enough, but I guess she’s not a well person. In fact, she might be pretty disturbed. Hoarding is, according to the Mayo Clinic and other experts, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But, also according to the experts, there is not a whole lot others can do until the hoarder acknowledges she’s ill and seeks treatment.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is my first time visiting your blog. This woman obviously has a disorder. I guess because she is not in a wheelchair or sucking air through a tube, you have little tolerance or compassion. Yes, her home is a fire hazard and she NEEDS to own up to this and take responsibility for her home. Also doing this will put her back on good terms with her neighbors.The neglect of her cats is appalling. She cannot take care of a home let alone a pet. You said you live near open space? Deers and raccoons live in these allocated areas also. Have you noticed that their living areas are dwindling also, due to over-development. Food and water are also scarce. Where do you suppose they go? Hitch hike to Yosemite? Your answer is to call an exterminator or buy a gun. Charming. In between shopping at Juicy Couture, driving Range Rovers and target practice you demonstrate why Walnut Creek housewives ARE crazy and obnoxious in suburbia.

Choosing pompous and shallow Victoria Beckham for your blogs mascot truly speaks volumes.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for your comments, and I'm sorry if I came across as lacking in tolerance or compassion. But to some extent, you are right. I don't feel as much compassion as I should. In all honesty, I was more interested in what you correctly stated about her having a disorder. The issue of hoarding, which I guess is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, is something I found intriguing.

And personally, I don't live right next to her property so I wasn't at risk to the fire hazard she was causing.

Another neighbor did show compassion, but also took action, contacting animal services and the fire department. Their agency representatives apparently came and addressed the issue with this neighbor. I wasn't really angry about the deer, and in no way would I buy a gun and start shooting any animal. That was my weak attempt at a joke.

However, I was angry at her treatment of her cats. It really was sad to see a once happy, friendly animal wither away into an emaciated, scarred up, weak cat (His ear had possibly been chewed off by the raccoons that were breeding in her back yard.) Actually, I don't see any cats hanging around outside her house anymore. So perhaps she has done the compassionate thing, and given them up for adoption.

As for your assumption that I shop at Juicy Couture, drive a Range Rover, or target practice, you couldn't be more wrong. Oh, I know of women who do drive Range Rovers and shop at Juicy Couture. It's pathetic of me to say, but they intimidate me. No way, am I that glamorous or that rich. By the way, the Victoria Beckham photo: that was y little attempt at irony.

Again, I very much appreciate your comments.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very honest column about your experience living near someone who shows signs of being ill...and your curiosity about that illness. I do not find it intolerant.

Anonymous said...

One cannot be compassionate when faced daily, year after year, with the next door dump. I live in a rural area of Moraga, same county as WC. We have an outside hoarder (don't know about the inside, but I'm suspicious) who brings home everything. Currently there are 3 junked cars, washer and dryer, bulldozer, various engines, rototiller, chipper/shredder, numerous outbuildings that are falling apart, piles and piles of junk, containers of diesel and other flammables. Did I mention the Maypole? And, a generator runs for hours everyday because their solar panels don't get any sun. Sorry, anonymous, but you're out of line. Walk a mile in our shoes. I am not a Moraga housewife, am a retired nurse, wear jeans and don't drive a Range Rover. This couple consider themselves to be lovers of nature, which is pretty funny. They have destroyed their property and our property values have plummeted.