14 News Investigates: House of Hoarders pt. 2 - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

14 News Investigates: House of Hoarders pt. 2

Reporter: Stefanie Silvey
New Web Producer: Mike Mardis

Some people may consider themselves pack-rats. They hold onto those clothes they hope to fit in again one day. But others have a serious compulsion to collect. These people are called hoarders.

People like Dolores Zimmerman and Kenneth Mansell of Gibson county are hoarders. They have more than 100 pets. The animals are well taken care of, receive regular veterinary care and are all fixed.

But, it's cases where the compulsion to collect gets out of control, like the wealthy spencer county woman who collected animals and then let them starve to death, that need to be caught before they get dangerous.

What happens, though, when people don't collect animals, but objects?

Sometimes it is easy to spot a hoarder as their collections become visible on the outside of their homes.

But psychiatrists say with hoarding, it's often times those who maintain a pleasant exterior that you have to watch out for.

"We had one lady that would, every day, go in her vehicle with trash bags and collect roadside trash and take it home and stack it," said Rita Stallings of the Spencer County Health Department.

Those houses can become so filled with debris, the Health Department has no choice but to step in.

"I can understand wanting to have clothing, hoarding clothing, but when it comes to having the table piled with used food that's been there since perhaps the Nixon administration, that I kind of wonder about." said Dwayne Caldwell of the Vanderburgh County Health Department.

Caldwell said they once removed 10 tons of trash from a single home, and trash wasn't the only thing they found inside.

"Her mother was deceased and she was basically covered in some trash," said Caldwell.

He said they often don't learn about these situations until an emergency arises and an outsider goes inside.

"If we can find out about these things and can show our health officer or our board that there is a real risk, we can go in and say we need to get this cleaned up," said Caldwell.

But sometimes the hoarding does reach the outside. Like in the case of Jerry Renshaw,the self-proclaimed hoarder of tools.

"When you work on stuff like I do," said Renshaw, "you never have enough. You never have enough."

His small lot holds 16 tractors, a bulldozer, a fork lift and a whole lot more inside.

Casually walking on Renshaw's property, you can find just about anything. But, ask Renshaw to find something specific for you and he says "it's impossible."

He doesn't just collect objects. He also has thousands of bees and is proud of it. He says he realizes his lifestyle isn't for everyone, particularly not his neighbors.

"They don't like my junk out here," he said, "but they got to get used to it. Maybe one day I'll get around to cleaning it up a bit."

While all the stuff in his yard may just look like piles of junk to a passer-by, Renshaw said to him, "it's treasure."

The clean-up of his property would be a challenge even for professionals, but he says when the day comes to clean it all out, he has it covered.

"Well that bulldozer would take care of it pretty quick," said Renshaw.

But Dr. Louis Cady, psychiatrist, said that's not likely to happen. He said very rarely will a hoarder take it upon himself to clean up on his own, or seek help.

"Zero percent of the time," said Cady, "I've never had a patient come in and say 'I'm a hoarder and that is the reason I'm here.' Hasn't happened."

He said if they did, help is available.

"If it gets through their reality brain that maybe there is something abnormal about their behavior, and they have psychotherapy and medication therapy that indicates it, they can be treated," said Cady.

He said medications that boost seratonin in the brain often help battle hoarding, if it is a biological affliction. But, he said the real trick is for loved ones to convince a hoarder they need help.

"Be available," said Cady, "but in terms of saying you have a problem and you need help, it is almost a guaranteed way to repel the individual so they will reject help."

While Dolores Zimmerman, Kenneth Mansell and Jerry Renshaw all recognize their actions as a little eccentric, they also admit they have no plans of changing.

"You know everything goes to them, that's the downfall, but I have enjoyment out of them. I think if I didn't have them, I don't think I would be living," said Zimmerman.

Dr. Cady said the big question with hoarding is: Is it a biological problem or a psychological one? He said the answer can be both. He said, in many cases there can be a physical explanation for hoarding.

But, in other cases, it can be psychological, where someone's past causes them to collect. He said if you can first figure out which category a person falls under, and then convince them to get help, it is possible to get a handle on hoarding. 

It is possible to have both biological and psychological reasons for hoarding. Often times low seratonin levels are found in hoarders, but also in those suffering from extreme depression, obsessive compulsive disorder or those with a history of violent suicides in their family.

Click here to see Dr. Cady's entire interview.

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