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tv   Caught on Camera  MSNBC  January 30, 2012 12:00am-1:00am PST

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-- captns by vitac -- out of control hoarding. >> you think, wow, why am i doing this? i need to stop. >> leaves a mother and daughter overwhelmed. >> it's very chaotic and stressful thncht is hoarding. >> a real estate investor finds a real steal. >> there was no way anyone could live in the house. >> and gets more than he bargained for. >> you couldn't walk around. huh to climb over it. >> a race against the clock. >> turned out to be 700 cats on the property. >> to save hundreds of lives. >> they were really, really sick and really malnourished. >> and when the experts step in >> a stinking rotten mess. >> -- even they can't believe their eyes. >> what i saw would make anybody want to vomit.
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"caught on camera" -- hoarding. hello. i'm contessa brewer. welcome to "caught on camera." if you are like me from time to time you look around your home and you think what a mess. maybe dirty dirnss in the sij, a pile of laundry on the floor or a big stack of papers on the counter. eventually most of us clean, fold and file our way back to at least presentable. but for hoarders clutter crosses a line from untidy to out of control. and the mess becomes a monster taking over their lives. from the outside it looks like a typical home in an ordinary suburban neighborhood. but go inside and you'll witness a shocking sight. rooms stuffed to the rafters with clutter and debris. >> it's very, very chaotic and stressful. >> in california 27-year-old
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jessica, who asked that her last name not be revealed, lives with her mother, an admitted hoarder. >> i would describe it as bad. it's not an environment that's comfortable to be in. >> after living on her own for more than a year, jessica moves back home to save money and help her mom with her worsening condition. the transition to such deplorable conditions takes a toll. >> it's been very difficult. i grew very accustomed to having kind of a minimalistic existence in my apartment. not having a lot of stuff. and being able to clean my apartment from top to bottom in maybe an hour and a half, where cleaning everything could take days or weeks or it's not an easy process. you don't have control over where you can move stuff or what you do with stuff or what stuff stays and what stuff goes. so it's been stressful. >> dr. samantha morrison, a licensed psychologist, specializes in compulsive hoarding. >> by definition it includes
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three components. there's the acquisition or failure to discard a large number of possessions. an inability to use your home for its intended purposes due to the clutter. the third part of it is significant distress or impairment in your life. >> jessica gives our cameras a revealing look inside the house and mind of a hoarder. >> this is the entryway to my mother's house. in this room is antique lamps, boxes of blankets and sleeping bags that have been there for over a year and boxes upon boxes of books. coloring books, academic books, journals, all sort of electronics, workout gear, a piano and all sorts of antiques and tvs. this room is intended to be my mother's office at some point. office supplies, her paper, her printers. she needed a place to put it and this is where it fit. but for the most part it's all office supplies or meant to be in her office.
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>> this is the pink room. originally it was my niece's bedroom. if 'n it are her bed, toys, clothes and my mother has filled it with soft textured items. blanket, jacket, comforters, clothes, pom poms and still my niece's toys as well as other things that she's bought for my niece to play with. it's pink because that was the color my niece picked for the room when she was a little girl. at one point this room was completely cleaned and it was used as bedroom, solely as a bedroom and a play room. this was my room for 25 years. and it was always kept clean. and after i moved out, my sister moved in and after she moved out, the hoard moved in. it started off with stuff in the middle. i don't even know what that stuff was, but it was added on to. this room has become a catch-all. and it's just stuff that doesn't have a home, that she can't figure out what she wants to do with comes here. and it's like a tomb enshrining
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the hoard. it just sits here. a lot of the boxes she moved from other places in here. she'll take stuff out and she'll put stuff back in. >> and among the stuff, 11 cats have free rein of the house. >> they're fuzzy pets, they leave hair, and they scratch on things and that leaves bits. it adds up quickly to equaling a big mess. if it's not kept on top of constantly, it can very easily get out of hand. she bonds with them, she develops a relationship with them. and i think that that does contribute to the hoarding because then it attaches an extreme value to the pet. greater than most people would attach to the pet. so it makes it harder to part with them. but she doesn't go out and actively seek them and bring them in. >> she finds the conditions so intolerable she seeks refuge in an isolated bedroom in the home. >> it's at the far end of the house. i've separated myself off from
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the house with a heavy duty shower curtain and baby gate to keep the barrier between myself and the rest of the house. i keep everything in my room now, all my personal belongings because if i leave them out they'll get destroyed and destroyed very quickly. either stuff will get put on top of it and it will get crushed. her pets might get hold of it or destroy it. things will get dirty. >> the pets also contribute to something that isn't caught on camera. a smothering, noxious odor permeates most of the home. the overwhelming smell of ammonia from cat urine combined with pet hair makes breathing difficult. unlike other areas, the air in jessica's room is much cleaner. >> it doesn't hurt to breathe in this room. your eyes don't burn. your nostrils don't burn, your throat doesn't suddenly hurt. you don't feel like someone's sitting on your chest. >> with the house in such disorder, jessica finds day-to-day life mentally draining and physically exhausting.
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>> it takes ten times more work and effort to do simple things than it should take, to take a shower, you have to get all your stuff from your bedroom, make sure you have your flip flops on, step over your baby gate, walk to the other end of the house. i don't walk around barefoot. i don't want stuff on my feet. it just flat-out grosses me out. to cook anything, i have to go to my fridge in my room, get everything i needed, get all my utensils and bring it into the kitchen to prepare my food, then clean it and take it all back to my room. to sweep and mop, i have to do a quarter to a third of a room at a time. i have to move everything away from where i want to mop, which can take 45 minutes to an hour sometimes. mop, wait for it to dry, put it all back and then do the next section. it's very exhausting and very stressful. >> to an outsider, the solution seems easy, clean it up. but with a hoarder, it's just not that simple.
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>> you don't move stuff. she would be very hurt, first of all, she'd be angry, she'd be hurt at the disrespect to her and her things. she'd be ashamed. it would be kind of like her worst fears coming true right then and there. it would just make the problem worse because it would make her more defensive of everything else. and would make her fight harder to keep it. >> dr. morrison has not treated jessica's mother but has dealt with many similar cases. >> if you were to go into the home of someone who hoards and you were to clean out everything, not only would that make the person incredibly vulnerable and distressed but it would not solve the problem. but the person would reclutter and rehoard. the first step is to have them get the motivation to want this. >> looking at all the seemingly unmovable piles, jessica wories about the future. >> just walking through the house and seeing everything that's here and wondering is she going to be able to conquer
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this? is she going to get through this or am i going to be stuck with this one day? is this going to be her legacy. >> coming up, jessica's mother in her own words. >> it's daunting. and you think i need to go through this, it will take forever.
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27-year-old jessica lives with her mother who is struggling with a hoarding disorder. over the years, stacks and piles of clutter have taken over almost every part of their home. >> it started with newspapers. then it just kind of grew from there. from newspapers it went to books, then maybe from books it went to baskets or from baskets it went to candles or just suddenly started having collections of things. it was like the flavor of the month. what are we collecting this year? >> jessica can hardly recall a time when the house was in order. >> some of my earliestmentalry memories were yetting yelled at because she couldn't find something and thought we'd moved
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it or threw it away. and having this huge fight or tantrum because she misplaced something and later finding it. >> at the time i didn't have a clue. i would say, okay, well, i need to do something. >> because her condition is not widely known, jessica's mother prefers not to reveal her identity. >> i guess it's not the characteristic i want to be known for. >> working with children, jessica's mother also has concerns about how her hoarding might impact her career in education. >> it's very important to me to be professional in my job capacity. and when i meet with the clients or meet with the other educators, that's what i want them to take away and think that, oh, she's very professional. she does a very good job. we can depend upon her. not, oh, my god. you know, have you seen -- oh, my god. >> jessica's mother says her hoarding tendencies can be tracked back to her college years but it isn't until the
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sudden death of her husband in 2001 that a tendency become a compulsion. >> went way over the edge. you do the grief counseling, you do all the things you think you should. sometimes it doesn't happen. what i found was i would go to work and come home and just want to cocoon myself. i just didn't want to deal with anything. >> in the cases of somebody, a spouse passing away, you have kind of two complicated issues because now you're more alone, you're more isolated and you fill things up with stuff. a lot of times people with compulsive hoarding don't trust their memory. they're afraid they're going to lose whatever association or connectedness to the individual that they lost. >> early efforts to seek help from psychiatrists are unsuccessful. >> i never had the feeling that they really grasped what i was trying to say and they really understood. and you know, it was really futile. and thousands of dollars for nothing.
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and you realize, well, this person's not helping me. so you go to the next one. they're not helping me, you go to someone else. they're not helping me. it eventually becomes apparent i can spend a lot of time playing who is the right person or i can call it quits and try and do this on my own. and that's extremely difficult. it's overwhelming, the anxiety is just amazing. and you think, wow, why am i doing this? and i need to stop. >> jessica has also been unable to secure long-term professional counselling for her mom. >> a lot of them don't want to come to your house. they don't want to see firsthand. they don't want to get in there. and not necessarily get their hands dirty and helping them clean, but get their hands dirty in the sense of while they're throwing this tantrum, talking to them and seeing what's going on and addressing what is causing this. and that seems to be the biggest problem we've had with finding help. >> but without immediate answers, the hoarding continues. >> part of it and the feeling you fight against is the idea
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that, okay, this is mine. i bought this. i have the control over it. and now somebody's telling me that i need to get rid of this and i need to let go. it becomes an issue more of control than perhaps emotional attachment. >> i think it's just the issue of letting it go. i think she feels that when she lets it go, she loses a little bit of control over the item. she doesn't realize the control she has to let it go is much greater. >> for years, the hoarding strains jessica's relationship with her mother, but more recently, the two commit to tackling the problem together without professional help. >> it was you have an issue and you need help. no, i don't. i'm perfectly fine. no, you really do have a problem. and you really do need help. when she got there and admitted it, it was a huge giant step. she understands there's an issue. now we have to get on the long road to addressing it and trying to fix this and fix this behavior and fix this mentality. and pushing her, you know, when she doesn't want to go any more.
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>> jessica acknowledges progress has been made, but there's still a long way to go. >> this is probably 75% of what it was about a year ago. used to be completely filled with boxes that were up to your waist and they went higher as they went back. >> i'm not sure i would have made as much progress as i have. i think it would have been much easier to side step it and find something else that was less distasteful to do and not as difficult. this is very difficult process. so if it were just me by myself, there wouldn't be as much progress. >> despite her mother's recent efforts to change her life, the hoarding has also had an effect on jessica. >> i started seeing reactions in myself that i couldn't understand. i was constantly throwing things of my own away and purging my own belongings. stuff i probably would have liked to have kept.
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and kind of like there has to be other people out here. there has to be someone who's talking about this. >> jessica finds great comfort online. she's an active member of the not for profit organization children of hoarders and corresponds with others for support. >> even just reading about other people's experiencing, what they're experiencing and if i can't relate, offering my own support. you know, you can get through this. it will be okay. >> as the cleanup continues, jessica remains hopeful. >> i think that she'll get it down towards manageable where people say she's a bit of a clutter bug. i think she can get it down to that point to where it's a little bit safer for her. so that's the best i can ask for, i guess. >> they have to want to learn how to think differently. how to change their behaviors, understand their pathology. so motivation and getting them to recognize the cost of their hoarding is probably the first step in getting them well. >> i'd rather it was not like this. but it was daunting, and you
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think i need to go through all this. oh, my god, it's going to take forever. will i live that long? i really would rather not have to do this today. i'd really rather have a root canal, for crying out loud. but at the same time you look around and say if i don't, it's never going to change. you you've got to doing in to make it happen. you have to be pro active and you have to remember your goal. coming up -- >> do you want to see hoarding? you're going to see it. >> a real estate investor shocked by what he finds behind closed doors. >> no way, shape or form was it livable. i'm good about washing my face. but sometimes i wonder... what's left behind? [ female announcer ] purifying facial cleanser from neutrogena® naturals. removes 99% of dirt and toxins without dyes, parabens or harsh sulfates. so skin feels pure and healthy. [ female announcer ] from neutrogena® naturals.
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a real estate investor in wisconsin buys a home brimming with clutter but has no idea what lies beneath. >> it was a crap shoot as far as what was underneath everything. >> october 2010 in bloomfield, wisconsin. rick schaeffer purchases a home in foreclosure in a remote lakefront community. >> it's a bunch of old cottages that get converted into homes. kind of in the middle of nowhere. >> not much is known about the previous owner.
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but for schaeffer the price is right even though the house appears to be in shambles. >> i've seen people save things and collect things. but i think in this case, the individual was cleaning the neighborhood, so to speak. >> armed with a video camera to document the scene, schaeffer visits his new property with a friend, david lang, and lang's neighbor ryan lamere. >> you want to see hoarding? you're going to see it. >> looked like a typical house that had neglect. the neighbors had put up a fence on the one side because of what had been there. >> the trees were all overgrown, the bushes. so they were overgrown on the house. there was a car parked outside. it was completely packed with stuff. >> that was overflow from the house. basically when you opened up the door to the car, it was filled to the ceiling. >>y shut the door and locked it. i'm sure if you opened it up, it would all fall out. >> looked like stuff you'd find digging through the garbage. >> there was a note in there saying in is my stuff.
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do not take it. it's not garbage. this is my stuff. >> with the camera still rolling the group moves into the neglected home to assess the damage. >> different places in the house had different things. when you initially walked into the house, it was a breezeway between the garage and the actual main house. that area had junk, laundry bottles, every bottle and just things like that. >> i've never seen anything like it in my entire life. this much stuff in such a confined space was mind boggling. it was crazy. >> it was full of i guess you might want to call debris up to the ceiling just about. bags and bags of stuff. dishes, mail and everything you can imagine. as you moved into the kitchen, the kitchen was stacked with dishes and, you know, cooking utensils and pots and pans. >> the nastiest had to be the kitchen because there were a bunch of plates that they were used. they weren't washed. and they were stacked up and spoons and forks and pots and pans that were used and not washed.
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>> at one point during the survey lang loses sight of his friend rick. >> where are you at? >> we didn't see him back there at first. he was standing where the kitchen table would have been. i think the kitchen table was actually under all the stuff. it was up to the ceiling. i've never seen anything like that before. >> let's move on to the living room. >> i think the worst room was probably the front room. the front room was the biggest room. that's the one that probably had the most stuff. >> piled as high as you could see, up to the ceiling. you had to walk across most of the two, three feet up in the air on top of the clothes to get through to the other rooms. >> it was just stacked. an ungodly amount of stuff just stacked in the living room. >> let's try to get to the bedrooms. >> as you move into the hallway and the bedrooms, same thing. pretty much linens, blankets, stuff like that. >> it was kind of like hilly. you had to climb over it. >> there's the other bedrooms. >> when you looked at the doorway, the stop of the doorway
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was where you would smash your face on it. debris was three feet from the top of the doorway, which is roughly 4 1/2 feet deep. other areas it was higher. basically got stacked. couldn't see out of the windows. some of the places it was stacked to the cleaning. >> it was clean clothes. she would clean them and pack them away. so it wasn't just garbage. >> there's the top of the door. got a little bit of clearance. >> to put that much stuff in there, she had to have been doing it for many years. it was kind of sad. you had kind of a sad feeling that somebody was living like this. >> take you to this bathroom here. yeah. that was the bathroom. >> the bathroom was completely filled with bags of stuff. so it wasn't usable. you could tell that she had finally just abandoned the house and just was using it for storage apparently now because there was no way that anyone could live in the house. >> no way, shape or form was it livable. >> if you have an entire house amassed with stuff from wall to
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wall, where do you even begin? what a lot of times happens is they sort of throw their hands up. they feel very beaten down, they feel very hopeless and overwhelmed, both anxious and depressed. >> this is hoarding. >> the removal of clothes and debris takes schaeffer one month to complete. >> i filled up four 30-yard dumpsters. and i think i filled over 500 garbage bags to the top about the biggest bags they make. there's nothing that can't be accomplished with work. >> i don't know how one guy could do all that. it looked like you needed a crew. >> it looks really nice now. >> i rented it four months after i bought it. i was very happy with the result. coming up -- excessive hoarding in florida, but this time hundreds of lives are at stake. >> it turned out to be 700 cats on the property.
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welcome back to "caught on camera." i'm contessa brewer. many of us are blessed to have a furry little friend in our lives. cats and dogs cannot only be our pets but members of our family. but for an animal hoarder, what starts off as caring for a few pets becomes overwhelming. a warning -- you might find what you are about to see disturbing. in florida, neighbors call police to complain about their
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neighbor's out of control hoarding. but authorities say it isn't clutter that they find. >> turned out to be 700 cats on the property. >> he's director of animal cruelty investigations of the humane society of the united states. and works closely with law enforcement to investigate reports of animal cruelty and neglect. >> we get a lot of animal hoarding calls. it's our number one call. oftentimes they fail to spay and neuter. the other scenario is folks who sort of started out trying to rescue animals and they've just sort of lost the ability or never had the ability to sort of determine what's an appropriate number of animals for them to have. >> whatever the reason for hoarding, the effects on the animals are devastating. >> the number one thing that we see in these cases is a real failure to provide proper veterinary care. when there's so many animals and not enough people to care for them, what happens is they may
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be providing sort of the basics of food and water to some extent, but they don't have the ability really to go through and monitor the population. you see injuries that have not been treated properly, that have either gotten infected or healed improperly. you often see disease from overcrowding. >> people with animal hoarding tend to want to be caregivers. they want to take in the defenseless animal. be an advocate for these creatures who can't advocate for themselves. a lot of times they may get a sense of comfort, may get a sense of animals needing them. so that's how they derive pleasure from it. they just begin to take in more and more and more. so then at that point, it's how do i get rid of this? >> when animal control in florida calls for help with an out of control cat sanctuary in february 2011, he heads out with a video camera to document the scene. >> when you initially drive up, you really have no yofd the full extent of what's going on with the situation.
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and it wasn't until we started walking through the property and we came to, you know, there was a large area off the main house that was sort of the isolation ward that just had cages and cages and cages and very, very sick cats. there was a large barn that also had cages and cages of cats. off of that barn were some pens with cats in them. you know, there was a trailer with cats. then come around the other side of the house, there's other pens with cats. >> deputy manager of cruelty investigations, ashley, and senior field responder, rowdy, join him on the rescue. >> anyone that looks at a situation like that would almost immediately wonder how somebody could care for that many animals. your immediate thought was, oh, my gosh, there are a lot of animals here. >> they were in every kind of device that you could put an animal in. >> that was overwhelming, the smell and the fecal matter and the urine in there. >> once the assessment is complete, the humane society puts together a plan to deal with hundreds of felines. >> once we got over the initial
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shock of the number of cats that we were going to have to remove from that property, we divide the property up into different zones, and we split into three teams. essentially i would just assign each team an area. when they finish that area, i would assign them the next area. because we needed to keep moving >> we had everybody spread out over that whole area. walk through. the moment somebody saw one cat, they'd yell and we'd come up and try to get it cornered. then with a net you'd be able to capture the cat safely. >> after two days of collecting the outdoor cats, the team returns to the house. >> we did that last. we just took everybody and put them in there with nets and essentially caught all the cats in there. just chased them around till we caught them all. >> the cats' medical conditions are checked and some are in grave condition. >> they were really, really sick. and really malnourished, a lot of them. most of them lacked even just basic care. you know, it was appalling.
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>> we had just about every kind of virus you could imagine. one cat his entire lip was missing. there were cats that were blind, there were cats who later had to have eyes removed because their infections had gotten so bad. >> the humane society rents two nearby warehouses to treat the sick and injured cats. >> we had at the height of it about 26 people a day to care for the cats. >> a lot of them, actually. and that was kind of sweet. they were so excited for some companionship, that we would go into the pens and they would just walk right up to us. and they would nuzzle us and just want to be loved. >> sadly nearly 100 rescued cats do not survive the neglect, but many do find a happier home. >> we did a large adoption event and adopted out 258. then the rest we've just sort of slowly placed. >> as a result of the investigation, two people are each charged with 47 counts of animal cruelty. both have pled not guilty and are awaiting trial. for the humane society,
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another shocking case of animal hoarding. this time in gordon, alabama. more than 200 animals are rescued from deplorable conditions. >> a relatively large property. i think it was 20-something acres and there were a number of homes on the property. a number of folks living on the property. but each of these folks had upwards of ten animals in their particular living situation. it was a hoarder commune, if you want to call it that. >> if you didn't know it was there, you didn't know it was there. one of those places tucked in the back, then all of a sudden in the trees, dogs. >> many were kept in a variety of pens and many were just chained on the property. and there was an unbelievable amount of trash and debris strewn all throughout the property. the residents from the main one was just filled with all sort of stuff. it was sort of a little trail to go through the trailer. very strong odor in there of urine and feces. the animals that lived in the
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trailer were sort of climbing over piles of debris. the dogs were heartworm positive. many of them had heartworm that had advanced to such a severe stage that they were suffering from heart failure at that point. >> a team of more than 20 people examines and documents each animal. >> there were a lot of dogs that were really afraid. you can imagine they'd probably spent a lot of their lives just chained up on the property without any real human interaction, which we see a lot on the hoarding cases. >> almost 230 animals are removed. but despite the team's efforts, not all survive. >> there were several that were just so severely advanced in their heartworm or heart failure that they could not sustain the treatment and did have to be euthanized, but the majority of the animals we were able to place eventually. >> two residents of the property are charged with animal cruelty. both plead guilty and receive two years of probation.
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>> both of these women were in denial about the situation with the animals. they really felt that they were providing the best care for the animals. >> while delivering many of the animals to rescue shelters, one german shepherd catches rowdy shaw's eye. >> i stopped and i just couldn't do it. she was asleep on the little couch. i fell for her and ended up taking her home. she's heartworm free and the happiest dog you'll ever see. >> with the clock running out, hoarders call in the professionals. >> we got there just in time. i want healthy skin for life. [ female announcer ] improve the health of your skin with aveeno daily moisturizing lotion. the natural oatmeal formula improves skin's health in one day, with significant improvement in 2 weeks. i found a moisturizer for life. [ female announcer ] only from aveeno. then lead a double life! with new blast flipstick from covergirl. it's the lipstick with a flip side. you call this a flip side? creamy color on one end, shimmery color on the other. expertly matched so you can flip your look.
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for more than 30 years, ron has owned disaster masters, a full service crisis management business he now runs with his wife melissa. among other services disaster masters offers assistance with severely cluttered homes.
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>> we know that we can help those people. >> ron and i are both project managers. we go in and help people that are living in unsafe and unhappy and unhealthy conditions. >> but according to ron, disaster masters services are only available to those who make the call themselves, to take their own first step toward recovery from excessive hoarding. >> the first question i ask them is are you calling for yourself or somebody else. 70% of the phone calls i get are third parties trying to fix somebody. those people i say, sorry, can't help you. i can't help somebody that's not interested in helping themselves. >> when a call comes in in 2010 from a school teacher needing help in staten island, new york, they head out for an assessment. with video camera in hand to document the case. but he assured all his clients that their identities will remain confidential. >> you couldn't open the door 90
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degrees, maybe 30. this lady had a hard time getting into her own door. as soon as you got in the door, it is stacked from the floor to the ceiling. >> i remember having a difficult time walking through the front door. and being amazed that she was in a wheelchair. and the first thing i thought was, how does she get in and out? >> the disaster masters make their way around the packed home to assess the severity of the problem. >> behind the door, up against the wall in the closet, still stacked to the ceiling and little paths back into the living room. kitchen in the back. you could barely walk into the kitchen. >> it was a mix of construction material like tiles, plaster, to repair walls, tools and things that she had recently purchased as gifts. >> just a complete mess. everything came home, nothing had a place. >> she had a sofa sleeper that she was using because she could not walk up the stairs because
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she had just had knee surgery. and the whole second level was uninhabitable. turns out that all that construction material was because they had renovated a bathroom. so you go to the stop of the stairs and on the left was this amazing bathroom. it was unfortunate that she could not even get up there to use it. you couldn't walk into the bedroom. and then the home office that was upstairs, that was over. i mean, it was full of office supplies. so it was just about safety and about her mobility issues. >> the job of painstakingly combing through and removing room after room of debris takes a five-person crew three days. >> everything in there that was a fire, health and a slipping hazard was gone. >> according to them, not only was the cleanup successful, but the school teacher has remained committed to maintaining order.
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>> there were a few phone calls made following that. and as far as we know even today she's doing okay. >> for the disaster masters, another memorable case of severe clutter happens in april of 2007. a high level computer expert reaches out for help from a very exclusive neighborhood on manhattan's park avenue. >> this is a lady very sharp, highly educated. >> we were greeted downstairs. we were the first people to show up in about five years? and she was absolutely beyond embarrassed. she knew we had to go in. once we got in, a few minutes after, she broke down. she was just in tears. >> successful in the workplace, but behind closed doors at home, living in complete disarray. >> she lived in a very respectable high rent high rise building. and her house was a complete shambles. when you walked into the room and you were standing where the
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bed was, you were standing on top of the bed, about two feet above it. >> this was a pizza box job. it was just trash. empty water bottles, pizza box, food containers. >> i see people talk about milk bottles in the same way that we're speaking about individuals or talking about a cat or a living creature. not all but some individuals truly believe that she's objects have feelings and the loss that they would sustain in throwing away milk bottles is not that different than someone who is getting rid of a cat or a dog. >> the homeowner, whose identity is also being kept confidential, is not only looking for help with removal but also to locate a lost family treasure. >> we asked was there anything you're looking for. >> she says, oh, my god, yes, there is. >> i said what. >> i lost my mother's diamond ring. >> what's the odds of finding something like that in that mess. >> i'm 5'3" and it must have come up to my shoulder.
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a lot of times you see a path and there was no path. you didn't just walk in, you climbed in. it was an amazing amount of trash. >> because of the amount of debris, the living conditions are extremely dangerous. >> she was clearly in danger of having fire in that building. because when you live in a place like that, you have that kind of paper and you have all these extension cords underneath this stuff, one spark with a lot of dryness, you can very easily happen. >> the removal process takes a six-person team two days to complete. 100 large trash bags are filled to the brim and carted away. but not before the team make a miraculous discover ne the bedroom. >> we found the ring. >> it was in the middle of the floor and had a bunch of trash. >> i don't know who cried more, the staff member who found it, you know, this grown man. and then she starts crying, and the whole crew starts crying. it was amazing. >> though not a trained mental
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health professional, he remains confident the home will remain clutter-free. >> what we do is we give them a new pattern of thinking so they don't buy anything unless they know where they're going to put it. they don't want to see me again. i don't want to see them again. i tell them flat out when we start, listen, i'm going to do this job once. i don't ever, ever want to come back and do this again. coming up -- a business executive faces eviction. and the disaster masters face their worst disaster ever. >> what i saw would make anybody want to vomit.
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a highly successful business executive living in an apartment filled with garbage, clothes and computers. fearing eviction, he calls in the experts. the disaster masters. >> he felt that the landlord was
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about to create an action and eviction. he felt the pressure. >> 2005. they head out to survey the scene. >> he welcomed us in and really said the magic words that fix it people love to hear, like ron and myself, which is will you please help me? please help me. >> and what they find shocks even a team of experienced professionals. >> this place was one word -- abysmal. you had to push the door open with your shoulder to get it open. then you walked around sideways like this to slip in. just get in. and from there, there was virtually everything, food, clothing, stuff, everywhere. >> the debris in this case was a lot of trash, but also a lot of computer parts. he loved tinkering on computers and taking them apart. >> just like everything. lunch containers, soda bottles, you name it.
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everything you can buy at the grocery store, you bring it home and it was all there. >> a lot of paperwork. people have a huge problem with what to do with paper. >> the crew begins carefully sifting through the debris room by room. >> we don't take the snow shovels and just haul the stuff into a trash can. we actually go through everything. we're going through those papers looking for stocks and bonds and photographs and birth certificates and things like that. >> the removal takes a seven-person crew three days to complete. >> we left him in really good shape. >> the cluttering client avoids eviction. and just months after the cleanup, they receive an unexpected call. >> out of the blue has a conversation with ron and says, i want to call and thank you for saving my life. >> shortly after we did that project, he ended up in the hospital. and the reason was because he got a heart transplant.
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>> he said, if you had not taken me on as a client, if you would not have helped me, i would have died because i would have not been able to come home to recover. i would not have been able to walk into my apartment. so you really just saved my life twice. and he was just very, very grateful. >> a happy ending for the business executive, and another client, an ailing elderly man facing imminent eviction cries out for help. >> they had found him out and they moved to have protective services for adults evict. >> once in the apartment trk crew discovers why there's been such cause for alarm. >> when you walked in the door, all there was was books. i mean, tens the of thousands of books. i don't know why the floor didn't collapse. from the floor up, taller than i am on both sides. it just went up six, seven feet high. >> every single book in there was about philosophy, religion and health.
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there was nothing else there. >> the removal team winds their way through the literary maze. >> when you walk through this tunnel, down to the window and over on one side there was what may have been a sink. >> to clear the apartment, the crew hauls the books out into a bin on the curb, but over the course of five days, they notice not only isn't the pile growing, it's getting smaller. >> people on the street would go and take the books. so every time we showed up, it was kind of a joke. you know, how the dumpster would be less and less. >> a once hidden treasure of hard covers and paperbacks is donated to dumpster diving book worms. 2006 in new jersey. the disaster masters encounter the worst conditions they've ever seen. >> a stinking, rotten mess. >> the house had been occupied by a reclusive mother and son. both in poor health. they left their home only after it was condemned by authorities.
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>> when you walked up to the steps, you saw a bunch of yellow tape because the town had just condemned the house. when that happens, you're quite apprehensive about what is behind that door? you could already smell it before we even opened the door. you had to wear the respirators. you would not have been able to breathe at all. we climbed around to try to make sense of what the contents were. you couldn't even recognize the kitchen. there was so much organic material. >> the team finds the living room by identifying the very top of the fireplace. and cannot believe what they're facing. >> the living room had this big recliner in it, and between the door and coming in to where the chair was is a pile of garbage. >> the whole living room was like a refrigerator from a horror flick. it was just unimaginable. the organic material came up about as high as the arms of the recliner.
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it was so packed that you could actually in midday see the steam coming out from the methane gas from all the organic material. >> this stuff was rotting. all right? creating heat. >> what i saw would make anybody want to vomit. you didn't know if you were looking at a dead opossum or if you were looking at just old food. i mean, it was just unrecognizable. >> they realize that years of dropping food on to the floor had actually created a new higher floor. >> the heat like this and they watched the tb and when they're done, they throw this one there and that one that way. and it stacks up. >> it's so dense, so packed from, you know, layer, layers, layered, then you walk on it and you layer and you walk on it. it was like walking on a floor. you could pound your fist on it. and you could break your wrist. it wasn't just that area. it was throughout the entire bottom floor. >> in the basement, busted water
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pipes create a stagnant pool of sludge. >> they had no heat. and as a result the pipes broke. >> we were wearing boots above the knees to get through that stuff because the paper and all the stuff, the clothing and things are absolutely disgusting. >> for 13 days, the team digs their way through the rotting garbage. hardened candle wax and stack of debris. in total, the crew fills five 20-foot-long dumpsters. >> i didn't think it was ever, ever going to get done ever. it was the longest job we've ever done. we recovered that house. the place got cleaned out completely. they put it on the market. we got there just in time. >> hoarding is a serious disorder that can leave many feeling hopeless and overwhelmed. but as we've seen, whether the issue is garbage, books or animals, life saving help is available. i'm contessa brewer. that's all for this edition of "caught on camera."


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