Monday, September 29, 2014

Animal Hoarding a Complex Issue



By Matt Surtel | Posted: Saturday, September 27, 2014 12:00 am

WARSAW — The story has become sadly familiar in Wyoming County.
Hundreds of cats discovered inside a local “cat shelter.” Volunteers removing dozens of felines, wearing masks amid a hideous stench.

Dead and sickened animals.
Then comes a community outcry and — in the case of a town couple last week — animal cruelty and other charges. Such cases are often classified as hoarding situations, as love for animals spirals out of control. It’s a complex set of circumstances often involving mental health disturbances.
“Most hoarders of animals fall victim to their good intentions and end up emotionally overwhelmed, socially isolated, and ultimately alienated from family and friends,” said the Rev. Matthew Kawiak, a pastor and social worker living in Bethany.

Animal welfare
Nobody sets out to be a hoarder. At its definition, animal hoarding refers to a compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them — to the extent it can result in accidental neglect or abuse. Coupled with that is dysfunctional decision-making, as the hoarders become mired in their problems. “Animal hoarders imagine all the wonderful ways in which they can save or rescue animals,” Kawiak said. “ They have every intention to care for their pets, but their difficulties with organization, attention, and focus make it easy for them to keep their living spaces very messy with animal waste and clutter. “Many have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder,” he continued. “Hoarders have a hard time letting go of their animals because they have a terrible time making even simple decisions, for example, ‘Is this cat my favorite or should I adopt him out?’” The causes can vary, but studies on animal hoarders show their behavior frequently starts after an illness, disability, or death of a significant other. Or it can trace back to something traumatic in a person’s youth. “In many, many hoarding cases, the vast majority can track back to a time they lost a loved one, a spouse or child, or a career, which seems to trigger that,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of field investigations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He’s based in Missouri, and has responded to hoarding incidents around the nation. “I suspect some (of the difficulties) are going on already,” he said, of a person’s life before hoarding becomes an issue. “Then they pull back, and delve into this compulsive behavior. They’re often trying to fill a void, and they’re pretty notorious for isolating themselves.” The symptoms can also signify compulsive disorders, in which people can’t discard possessions — including animals — regardless of their well-being. “In the case of animal hoarders, they’re really surrounding themselves with animals, rather than being a part of society,” Rickey said.

Hoarding’s not necessarily limited to individuals.
In some cases, well-intentioned people get together to create “animal shelters,” which devolve into group hoarding, using a public format.
The groups may even secure revenue streams to help with their efforts. But conditions deteriorate, with a steady flow of animals arriving, and never adopted out. Prospective new pet owners may be met with resistance. As conditions at the “shelters” deteriorate, the situation perpetuates itself.
“The biggest barrier is if they don’t keep their facility in order, there’s not going to be a huge impetus to adopt,” Rickey said. “ ...We see a fairly significant amount of those types of situations, but I think it pales in comparison to the individual situations that are going on throughout the country.”

Harmful surroundings
The ultimate irony may be that the animals and the hoarders themselves suffer. State police who raided the Wyoming County SPCA two years ago in Attica described the situation as hoarding. A total of 518 cats were removed from the building, and more than 50 of the felines needed to be euthanized.
In last week’s raid in Warsaw, the house was condemned, while eight dead cats, and a dead and starved-looking dog, were found on the property.
Yet the hoarders are themselves living in the chaotic and unsanitary messes, often despite nauseating ammonia or fecal odors noticeable from roadside.
Sometimes the hoarders are living outside in tents, Rickey said. Other times they’ll have a small area or bedroom which is relatively clean — under the circumstances — while the rest of the house is overrun. Or they live amid the filth, trying to continue an unmanageable situation. “It’s quite frankly hard to describe,” Rickey said. “These are filthy, unsanitary, unhealthy  environments, and these people live in this every single day. We urge people to have compassion and make the reports on the animals, but let’s not let people get lost in this either.”

The ASPCA talks with prosecutors and police agencies when it approaches hoarding situations. But it also tries to get social services and similar agencies involved — a dual aim to help the animals and people alike.
“Unfortunately, most of those cases need to be addressed as criminal cases, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for social services to really look at the scope of the problem, and take what steps are appropriate,” he said.

Seeking help
If you suspect a friend, neighbor or loved one’s hoarding animals, how do you deal with it? Kawiak recommends that concerned friends, family members or neighbors try to visit the suspected hoarding location if possible.
They should try to assess the conditions of the animals and the person.
“Before you approach a suspected hoarder directly — or even enlist the help of others — it’s important to try to confirm as best you can that hoarding is actually taking place,” Kawiak said. The key indicators are the owner’s ability to maintain a clean, safe and healthy home environment, while also being able to care for themselves and their family. Neglected animals will likely appear malnourished. They may also have matted fur, and open or recently-healed wounds. The home itself will probably smell of ammonia or animal waste. It may also be cluttered with other materials, such as magazines, newspapers or boxes. Those sharing a personal relationship should try to meet in-person with the hoarder, to express concerns and offer help.
“Come with an open and empathetic attitude,” Kawiak said. “While their situation may seem deplorable from your point of view, keep in mind that most animal hoarders truly believe they are doing no harm to the animals under their roof. “Try to avoid confronting them with their failures and the animal neglect,” he continued. “Instead try to get them to talk about what would be the best way to ensure the animals get the best care possible, and how much easier their lives would be if they had fewer animals.” It’s up to the hoarder to act, he said. Whoever approaches them shouldn’t have to carry the burden of worrying on their own. Concerned friends, family and neighbors can also contact resources the hoarder can use, such as social service groups, mental health agencies, and professional animal rescue organizations. But they should also be prepared, if the hoarder refuses help.
People may need to help rescue the animals, in which case they should contact local police, fire, or code enforcement officials, who may have the power to intervene. They can also contact animal control. “Without a doubt, these calls can be difficult to make — particularly if you have a personal relationship with the hoarder — but it may be the only way you can help him or her and the hoarded animals too,” Kawiak said.

Moving forward
Treatment can’t end after an intervention. Simply cleaning up a property or removing animals doesn’t solve the issues which led to hoarding in the first place. In many cases, hoarders will begin accumulating animals and debris again. That’s why organizations such as the ASPCA like to get social services or offices for the aging involved. “The days of viewing this as the ‘crazy cat lady’ are gone,” Rickey said. “We need to recognize these people are not just collecting animals. These are individuals who are doing harm to themselves and the animals, and a lot of times they really need help.”
Kawiak said hoarders should not be abandoned amid the fallout.
“Once the situation gets to a point where law enforcement, animal rescue or social service groups become involved, the animal hoarder will need all the support he or she can get,” he said. “Many animal hoarders have few alternative activities to help them feel productive, since their lives are consumed with vain attempts at animal care,” he continued. “ Simply removing all the animals from a hoarder’s home will not teach him new ways to manage his life and prevent additional hoarding.” He recommends people do what they can to stay in touch, and encourage them to seek or continue therapy. “No doubt this support will go a long way toward helping the hoarder achieve a long-term recovery,” Kawiak said. “And hopefully, some happiness too.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's Not Fair


I’m watching a Sci-Fi movie about aliens and a young boy has brought the alien to the cemetery where his father was buried. His dad was a soldier killed in war. The boy crying begs the alien to bring his dad back to life. But the alien responds that he cannot do that and the boy sobs: “It’s not fair.”

This morning, I invited the children in church to come up to the altar to share a story. First, I asked them to line up according to height. With the help of their Sunday school teacher, they lined up tallest to the shortest.

Once, Jesus taught that there were workers in a field and some worked from the beginning of the day and some didn't work until the end of the day but they all got paid the same. Do you know what the workers who got their first said? Yep, they said, 'That's not fair!' we worked longer and harder and we should get more. But they were given what they were promised; it was just the same as what the workers who came later were promised.

Have you ever had something be not fair? Grownups are all too familiar with situations when we say: “That’s not fair.” So we know what it feels like when we think that we didn't get treated the same. But Jesus tells this story to teach us about “grace.” See the workers who were hired later still had families to bring home food to and the landowner did not want anyone to go hungry so they were all paid the same. Jesus says that God is like this. God gives us what we need and loves us all so much that we don't get what we deserve, we get “grace” better known as “unconditional love.” Jesus said the last will be first and the first last! This might sound unfair to let the last go first but with God we are all included and we are all a part of God's “grace” and we are all God's children.

Sure, enough, I dug into my Pumpkin bag and pulled out some “Kit Kats” to give to the kids. However, like the story, I started with the shortest. But you know what happened next? In the pews were two little ones Chloe and Clifford who were smaller than all the other kids and when they saw the candy they came running out of their pews to get some candy too.

God prays for us as we reflect: ”A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who struggle in the journey of life with too many “it’s not fair.” May the spirit give you courage and wisdom and make your faith strong.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Too Cute


One of my favorite TV shows on cable is the program “TOO CUTE.” If you’re not already a loyal fan, you soon will be as your follow the lives of newborn puppies and kitties in the early days of their lives. As a therapist I would highly recommend watching this show for at least 10 minutes every day when you are feeling depressed or upset. The energy of these tiny fur balls are sure to restore your spirits and bring back a smile to your everyday life.

Something else that brought a smile was a recent baptism ceremony that took place in our church. Mom wanted her three children to be baptized and the people of this community welcomed the family with open arms. What no one was prepared for was the moment when one little daughter was too scared to get near the baptismal font. After baptizing her older sister, it was this little girl’s turn and we put a stool set near the font for her to hop on to receive the water.

However, I was grinning because grandma was trying to “drag her granddaughter to the waters.” This little one did not want to go near that font. Perhaps, we should have practiced with this frighten little girl, but her mother came to rescue with a practical solution to make it safe for her daughter.

Mom leaned over the font and told her daughter to bow her head with mom over the baptism bowl. The little one quieted down and bowed her head with mom. It must have been terrifying for this little girl not knowing what I was going to pour over her head. But there was a moment, when she settled down and I gently poured the sacred waters and offered the prayer, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

When this part of the service was over, I smiled at the congregation and said “I glad we got though that part of the service." Mom was wonderful and what started as awkward and embarrassing turned out to be a beautiful service.

I wonder how many grownups feel like this child coming to church. You may have invited people at home or in your family to come to Mass, but there’s always an excuse. So rather than dragging them to church, you might want to use the tactics of this compassionate mom. Simply tell your family and friends that you are going to church to get your hair done and coming back with a new hairstyle. They may make faces at you like what did you say, but it will make them curious and want to know what is going on in your church. 

By the way if you want to see a "too cute" moment in church, make a date to join us next Sunday on September 21st when I will be baptizing four children of all ages. I can’t wait to see their faces as they led up to the baptismal font.

God prays for us as we reflect: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
(Psalm 139:14).        

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who are reluctant to come near the font, the altar or inside the church in fear that the Lord may ask to much.
Fear not, it is the Lord’s invitation to simply walk with the Lord all the days of your life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple's Watch or God's Watch


I’m watching “World News” and the lead story is the revelation of the new Apple Watch. Despite the hype, the marketing and the buzz that this new technology must be on your wrist and your Christmas list, I like to share a story about God’s watch.

A neighbor was taking her dog “Candy” a mixed breed, rescue mutt for their daily walk around the pasture when she decided to ring the doorbell. To our surprise, she simply asked if she could have a glass of water. This neighbor has always been welcomed to come to visit the kitties but she never took up the invitation. She was invited into the kitchen to share some lunch. However, she kindly refused but proceeded to share the story of her life.

Surprisingly she shared that she is a cancer survivor. Some radiation and no chemo and she has been cancer free for six years. Then in the Spring of 2013, she had a stroke that paralyzed her left side. Miraculously, her feeling came back and she functions with no disability. She launched into her job history, working either as a waitress or maintenance for the thruway authority. Sadly, she remembered being confronted by her boss one day for taking a spoonful of ice crème. She admitted taking a spoonful and then they let her go.

On an afternoon when the world was spinning its stories about a new watch, this beautiful soul needed someone to listen and hear her story. You can’t do that with a watch. You need ears to hear and patience and eyes that say that you matter and we are concerned about how you are doing. It’s the modern day version of the Good Samaritan story.

God’s ways need a human person not a miniature circuit board. God’s watch requires attentive ears to listen, a heart that beats with compassion and hands to quench the thirst and a soul that smiles, “you are God's chosen one and I'm glad you stop by the house to say hello."

Today, with or without your new watch that can take your pulse or monitor your steps or take your voicemails, emails and spam mails, may you be watchful for the priceless gift that rests inside your human soul.

On the way out the door, our lovely neighbor asked if we had any milk. We gave her a quart of milk and while getting it ready she shared how she loved “coleslaw.” By sheer coincidence, we had some homemade cold slaw in the refrigerator and sent her home with a care package of milk and coleslaw. Later, I wondered what was this visit all about. Maybe it was God’s way of saying “are you paying attention?” There are many people in need of simple compassion. They don’t want an Apple Watch, but what they really need is God’s love and you have plenty to give and more than you need from the great Watch Maker in Heaven.

God prays for us as we reflect: “Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.” (Proverbs 8:34).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who watch for the priceless moment to bring comfort to souls who need a helping hand or simply a glass of water that says you are always welcomed at our table.

Monday, September 01, 2014

God's Gentle Nudge


The poet, Rumi, submits that we live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, and then not.

That can be very helpful in understanding our faith. One of the reasons why we struggle with faith is that God’s presence inside us and in our world is rarely dramatic, overwhelming, sensational, something impossible to ignore. God doesn’t work like that. Rather God’s presence, much to our frustration and loss of patience sometimes, is something that lies quiet and seemingly helpless inside us. It rarely makes a huge splash.

Because we are not sufficiently aware of this, we tend to misunderstand the dynamics of faith and find ourselves habitually trying to ground our faith on precisely something that is loud and dramatic. We are forever looking for something beyond what God gives us. But we should know from the very way God was born into our world, that faith needs to ground itself on something that is quiet and undramatic.

Jesus, as we know, was born into our world with no fanfare and no power, a baby lying helpless in the straw, another child among millions. Nothing spectacular to human eyes surrounded his birth. Then, during his ministry, he never performed miracles to prove his divinity; but only as acts of compassion or to reveal something about God. He taught us what God is like and that God loves us unconditionally.

Moreover, Jesus’ teaching about God’s presence in our lives makes clear that this presence is mostly quiet and hidden, a plant growing silently as we sleep, yeast leavening dough in a manner hidden from our eyes, summer slowly turning a barren tree green, a man or woman forgiving an enemy. God, it seems, works in ways that are quiet and hidden from our eyes. The God that Jesus incarnates is neither dramatic nor splashy.

Simply put, God lies inside us as an invitation that fully respects our freedom, never overpowers us; but also never goes away. It lies there precisely like a baby lying helpless in the straw, gently beckoning us, but helpless in itself to make us pick it up.
God prays for us as we reflect: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:3).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that God lies everywhere, inside us and around us, almost unfelt, largely unnoticed, and easily ignored, a quiet, gentle nudge; but, if drawn upon, the ultimate stream of love and energy.