My grandmother has some mental health issues. She has a hoarding problem with junk, and especially with cats. She currently holds a part time job that does not pay the bills. Her house is destroyed between all of the cats and no upkeep. She does not have heat (it gets very cold here in the winter), electric, or running water. My grandfather has many health issues and has been living with my mom and dad who care for him. My mom and dad have tried frequently to get my grandmother to live with them along with my grandfather. She insists on living in the house with the cats (both living and dead) and piles of junk. EMS arrived at the house one time to help my grandfather and almost had the house condemned.
My family and I want to help but do not know where to start.
We talked to a lawyer about getting the house condemned to force her to live with my parents, but she would get in trouble for not taking care of the cats. She says she would only move “if I could have all of my animals and move to the country,” but we do not have the money to make that happen if we wanted to. We are very worried about her, but she is quite stubborn, and does not seem to think there is anything wrong with the way she lives. Most recently her truck motor has blown, and I have helped with repairs in the past but I am not able to buy her a new truck to travel to work. I found an inexpensive car to fix up for the time being, but I do not want to encourage her current living situation. My first thought was to try and barter with her: a used car for moving out of the house. Ideally, we would like to find a way to get her out the house that doesn’t end with her in handcuffs for animal negligence. Unfortunately, I think the only way to get her out would be by force. We would also like to get her the mental help she needs, but I do not believe she is willing to accept help. We are hoping to get ideas on where and how to start. Any advice is appreciated. (age 27, from US)
Thank you for writing in with such a thoughtful question. I can tell that you love your grandmother very much and want what is best for her. Hoarding is a very complicated issue and it can be difficult to understand, as well as difficult to treat. Many communities now have a system in place to help, especially when it involves animal hoarding, and in most cases it will take a whole treatment team working together to be successful. There are underlying mental health issues that need to be addressed, and in the case of animal hoarding, the people affected are kind hearted folks who think they are doing what is right. They love the animals and believe that no one but them could care for them appropriately so it can be very traumatic if they are forced to abandon them abruptly.
I would suggest that you put some effort into finding out who in your community has the expertise and resources to help, even if you do it anonymously until you have a plan in place. I would first start with the local community mental health clinics and animals shelters. Explain the situation and see if they have any programs in place already. If you need to branch out further, contact local veterinarians, law enforcement agencies, the area agency on aging, adult protective services, and the housing authority. It will obviously take some time and effort, but getting your grandmother the help she needs to find a peaceful solution will benefit everyone involved. As frustrating and concerning as the situation is, approaching it with compassionate will aid the solution. Good luck to you and your family.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts