Town of Arlington Health and Human Services, Massachusetts
August 7, 2013
My name is Christine Connolly and I am the Director of Health and Human Services for the Town of Arlington, MA. I have been with the department for over twelve years and have a background in public health.
Ten years ago my office began receiving calls and complaints from residents that lived next door to a decrepit home in a well-established part of town. The callers reported that the home was falling apart, they saw rats coming from the property, the garage was overflowing with furniture and debris and the grass was overgrown.
For years the property owner refused to allow inspectors from my office to enter the home. It wasn’t until two staff from the Department of Public Works (DPW) entered the home to turn off water due to a major leak in the water line, that we were able to understand the extent of the issues on the inside of the property. The DPW staff immediately contacted my office to report the conditions of the property and to explain their concerns about the animals living inside. At the same time, the Animal Control Officer called to report that he had captured two pug dogs that had escaped from the home. We determined that in order to release the dogs to the owner we required that the owner allow our department in to inspect to ensure a safe environment for the dogs.
The owner was reluctant to allow an inspection but wanted to have her dogs back so she agreed to the inspection. Once we entered the home, we knew that we had entered one of the worst hoarded homes that we had ever come across. The home was filled with debris, garbage, fecal matter and animals. The entire attic was filled with bird cages that contained carcasses of dead birds. In the end we were able to have the home cleared out, the owner was placed in a nursing home and the property was made safe. During the clean out process, the company that was hired to conduct the work reported that there were so many rats living in the property that they had to use shovels to swat the rats away as they shoveled debris. We also learned that the mattress that the owner slept on contained a rat nest with multiple rats.
This was one of the most disturbing hoarding cases handled by my office in the 12 years that I have been with the department. As a result of this case, we have worked more closely with our police and fire departments to establish a local hoarding taskforce with input from the Boston University School of Social Work and a mental health clinician that works in the police department. This taskforce was designed to deal with hoarding cases in town which regularly pose a threat to police and fire as well as our community.