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Eddy Gilmore: True confessions of a former animal hoarder

When I walk near the chicken coop it is as if God is walking through the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day in the mind of my hens. Such is the combination of expectation, awe and fear and trembling that is inspired in the girls by my mere pre...

When I walk near the chicken coop it is as if God is walking through the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day in the mind of my hens. Such is the combination of expectation, awe and fear and trembling that is inspired in the girls by my mere presence.

It's a good feeling, to be honest, and I usually try to bring treats for them in the form of tomatoes, greens and various fruits that would otherwise be thrown away. It is good to feel needed and appreciated by God's creatures. Everyone needs to be needed and loved.

I have family and friends that help with that now, but vestiges of the past remain. Recently I was reading one of the many animal hoarder articles in the daily paper, and it occurred to me that I used to be one of those! I didn't have the illness to the same degree, but any of those folks suffering in silence behind closed curtains could be me.

I was raised in a home where hoarding of the non-animal variety was a constant issue, and -- in my quest for love and companionship -- I turned to the animal kingdom because they never turn on you. In addition to a trusted dog, at one time in my bedroom I had more than 40 birds across a variety of species flying loose and breeding.

Entering the room unexpectedly produced a whirlwind of feathers. These fell on my bed and mingled with seeds and other droppings from my avian friends. Since I washed my sheets so infrequently, I became accustomed to many small particles rolling around in the bedding and sticking to sweaty skin.

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At the same time, I also had approximately three-dozen gerbils that emanated from one breeding pair, which frequently escaped. Never get a pair of gerbils!

Finally, I also had a 55-gallon aquarium full of large piranhas, and a separate tank of goldfish to quench their voracious appetites.

This produced high humidity, strong odor, some mold and ... I just loved it. These animals needed me just to survive, and I thought it filled a large void of loneliness. Of course, I didn't see that I couldn't possibly keep up with this many animals -- and filth was an issue.

A fix for me was to ride my bike about four miles to the local flea market and see what birds were being sold by various pet vendors. To the consternation of my mom, I'd frequently travel home with a couple birds in a box so I could release them in my room/aviary. I got lovebirds, different types of finches and parakeets this way.

I also remember the shame of the home itself. Great pains were taken to keep people out of the house at all costs. I became quite adept at coming up with last-minute excuses to keep nearly everyone out. Shades were pulled, and the television was on non-stop.

This is a terrible existence that stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a serious mental illness that plagues millions of Americans today.

This was something you never heard of 15 or 20 years ago, and I always felt like we were so alone. Oh so alone, and nobody else in the whole world could possibly have a home as messy as this.

Not true: Recent news reports, and even television shows such as "Hoarders," have really brought this increasingly common problem into the light.

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I hope that many people who have struggled with this issue for years will be encouraged to seek help when they realize that they are not alone. I had never seen anybody else that lived like we did, so I naturally assumed we were the only people in the world that struggled with this.

Now I'm married to someone who helps keep these tendencies in check. I do still hold on to things like old T-shirts (due to all the memories), paper and any scrap of wood from a 2-by-4 that is 6 inches or longer. If I could only get rid of them more easily.

Anyhow, I suppose I'll always have to battle this thing, but it does enable me to relate to these people who are living with unsanitary conditions, a general lack of self-esteem and the awful loneliness that this disorder brings.

Coming out of that lifestyle, I can tell you that it feels so good to have the windows open and a fresh breeze blowing through! I'd truly like to help just one person that has this problem in the upcoming year, and I encourage you to help someone in your own life who struggles with this. Rather than judging them, or acting condescendingly toward them, do your best to love and respect them.

We also shouldn't make them into a spectacle in society on the front page of the newspaper, and, my goodness, how could we even think of possibly bringing charges against people who struggle with animal hoarding as is happening in the recent case in Two Harbors? This is a mental illness, and the strong arm of the law is never useful for this.

Rather, the gentle love of a thoughtful society that cares for its own is needed here.

People need to be left with their dignity as they are ushered into a more fulfilling way of life.

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. He can be reached via e-mail at eddyg_123@yahoo.com .

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LEARN MORE ABOUT HOARDING

Check out the Mayo Clinic's page at www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966 or the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation's page at www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding .

Locally, if you suspect someone is hoarding animals or if you want help with a hoarding problem yourself, call Hoarding Task Force member and animal control officer Carrie Lane at 723-3259.

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