In 2011, Roi Miller inside of his living room where he said the floor almost collapsed under the weight of things he hoarded. Miller of Dayton was featured on the A&E show Hoarders earlier this Summer. Miller described how the stuff was stacked to the ceiling.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Poodles hoarding case in Warren County brings call for mental illness help

People from across the country have offered to adopt 111 poodles and their puppies rescued last week from a reported hoarder’s Warren County home.

Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder experienced by 2 to 6 percent of Americans and Europeans, according to community surveys, and Warren County officials say this case appears to fall under the definition.

The dogs were kept by a 71-year-old woman who surrendered them to the Humane Society of Warren County this week. They were described as her “major source of love.”

“It’s like any other mental illness,” said Jane Groh, a counselor with Solutions Community Counseling & Recovery Centers in Lebanon. “Mental illnesses are not talked about openly in our society.”

“Every year, 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

“I won’t say its super-common. On the other hand, it’s difficult to know,” Groh said. “Many of these behaviors go on undetected for such a long time.”

The woman in charge of caring for the rescued poodles, Joanne Hurley, urged people to give their former owner time to heal.

“She knew she needed help….” Joanne Hurley said. “We rescue the dogs. We want her to be rescued too.”

RELATED: 111 rescued poodles unready for adoption

What and How Common is Hoarding?

In 30-plus years, Groh estimated she has treated more than 20 compulsive hoarders - three or four animal hoarders.

Hoarders, including those who keep excessive numbers of animals, used to be included statistically with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

In 2013, the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for the first time provided a diagnosis and suggested treatment for hoarding disorder.

Groh said those suffering from hoarding disorder tend to continue to collect animals even when it is beyond their ability to care for them, in part because they are unable to maintain personal relationships.

“They can with an animal. They don’t talk back. Animals in many ways are submissive and very loving. That fills that void,” Groh said.

Groh is also director of operations for the Solutions Community Counseling & Recovery Centers, a contract provider of services for the Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties, the public agency for alcohol, drug addiction and mental health services in the two counties.

Private mental-health services are also available for hoarding and other disorders.

Medication and treatment, including training on coping mechanisms, are recommended for those struggling with hoarding disorder.

While often effective, “nothing is 100 percent,” Groh added.

Social Effects of Hoarding

The Warren County poodle case was reported by her family after they were unable to convince her to take steps to alleviate the growing crisis.

“Clearly it can be very devastating to families,” she said. “Oftentimes, there’s a major cost when people find out what it has done to the dwelling.”

The Warren County Health District was part of a team called in.

“We’re really going out there to assess the conditions of the residence and the potential health impacts,” said

Chris Balster, director of environmental health in Warren County.

The owner will be given time to correct violations and clean up poodle feces and other hazards resulting from the hoarding, Balster said.

“Probably everybody has some clutter,” Reija Huculak, deputy director of Adult Mental Health & Recovery Services for Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties.

Problems with clutter amount to hoarding when the situation gets out of control.

“You are really looking to an excessive amount of it. What is the level of impairment and distress related to that?” Huculak said.

For animal hoarders, the clutter can also be a source off affection.

In last week’s Warren County case, the woman had a kennel for five dogs. When confronted, she acknowledged surprise at learning she had 111 poodles.

“Studies of animal hoarders show their behavior often begins after an illness disability or death of a significant other, or other difficult life event,”according to literature from the An

xiety and Depression Association of America.

“They view their animals as a major source of love, and they emphasize how much they give and receive from them,” John Cummings, director of communications for the bi-county mental health agency, read from the literature during an interview at the agency’s Lebanon office.

“Many see themselves as a rescue service for animals that others reject, giving them a role as a person who saves unwanted animals, which helps them feel special, loved and important. So they feel unable to give up their animals for adoption because they believe no one else will provide their intense love.”

The “Lucky 111” were turned over to the county humane society last Monday after sheriff’s deputies, health official and animal warden found the poodles “in various stages of medical emergency.”

The homeowner has not been charged and her case has been referred to adult protective services.

She was referred to Warren County Adult Protective Services, the county agency for people over 60 “at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.”

Other Area Hoarding Cases

“Hoarders” is a reality television series about people unable to deal with problems like those that appear to be behind the 111 poodles in one Warren County home.

In 2016, a Dayton resident was profiled that year on the show.

“The hoard, which included everything from found nuts and bolts to cherished family photos and inoperable floor-model televisions, consumed nearly every inch of the 10-room house, its backyard, and two garages. It spread to a box truck, an old Lance Cookie step truck, a van and the camper Miller bought for fishing trips he never took,” reporter Amelia Robinson said in a story on the case.

The house was condemned by the City of Dayton.

MORE: Ex-Dayton commissioner pleads guilty to bribery

In 2013, Miamisburg homeowners were cited for owning an unsafe structure and unsanitary conditions after 47 cats with a variety of health problems were removed from the home as part of an animal cruelty and neglect investigation.

“No one lived in the house. It was a cat house,” Officer Sheila Marquis of Humane Society of Greater Dayton said at the time. “The conditions in the house were just deplorable.”

“In hoarding cases like this, owners typically have a strong love for animals, but become overwhelmed by their circumstances. I think this is what we are dealing with in this case as well,” she said.

Journal-News Photographer Nick Graham contributed to this story.

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