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Herndon Resident Hoarding Dogs

Fox Mill resident voluntarily releases 31 dogs to Fairfax County Animal Shelter at request of animal control.

Less than two weeks after Fairfax County animal control officers removed 31 dogs from Fox Mill resident Bach Ly's custody, all of the pets have found new homes.

Responding to a citizen report that Ly, 52, could be mistreating her pets, Fairfax County Police visited the house on Pinecrest Drive on Thursday, Dec. 22.

Upon inspection, officers found 31 dogs, including Bichon Frise, Chihuahua and Shih Tzu dogs, in unhealthy conditions, said Lt. Richard Perez, Farifax County Police.

After Ly voluntarily released the dogs, animal control officers placed the pets — which were healthy enough to be adopted — at the county's animal shelter.

Because of the unsanitary conditions inside the home due in part to the dogs, the Fairfax County Department of Health was also called, said Perez.

"An inspector determined the house was unsanitary because there was dog feces and urine throughout the house," said Kimberly Cordero, spokeswoman, Fairfax County Department of Health. The health department inspector also acted as a member of the county's hoarding task force, Cordero said.

IN ADDITION to cleaning up the dog waste, Ly was asked to clean the house and remove the collected items she had piled up before the county returned the next day.

"We found it was a hoarding situation of items including clothing and food and there were cockroaches throughout the house," said Cordero. "We worked with the family and said they had to clean it up more over the holiday."

When inspectors returned Dec. 27, the house had been "significantly cleaned up," she said.

"I would say this was not an extreme case," said John Yetman, Fairfax County Hoarding Task Force chairman. "However, there were a lot of possessions in the house that blocked walkways through the house."

While the house was not condemned because it had running hot water and heat, the hoarding task force is scheduled to conduct a follow up inspection this week and an additional inspection in the near future, Yetman said.

Hoarding is defined as the excessive storage of items in and around a home to the extent that all available space from floor to ceiling may be occupied, according to the Fairfax County Hoarding Task Force. Hoarders keep an extreme, disproportionate collection of items such as newspapers, magazines, empty containers, old clothing, paper, trash, rotting food and sometimes animals, said Yetman, who is also an environmental health specialist for the Fairfax County Health Department's environmental health division.

The hoarding task force was created in 1998 to combine the resources of county agencies to provide a coordinated response to residential hoarding when it threatens life, safety and property. Those agencies include the health department — the primary agency involved because of health and safety issues — the county fire and rescue department, department of family services and when animals are involved, animal control.

When animal hoarders begin "collecting" animals they are not aware that what they are doing is unusual. They think they are taking care of the animals and then things get out of control,” Yetman said.

"A LOT OF people who are classic hoarders, they lose the ability to make good decisions," said Cordero.

That was the case this summer, when 492 cats — 221 of them dead — were found in two homes belonging to Mount Vernon resident Ruth Knueven, 82. Until the discovery of her cats, animal hoarding in Fairfax County had not been widely reported in the press.

Each month, approximately five to seven cases of hoarding are found, Yetman said.

"Just because someone is a hoarder," he said, "doesn't mean that other aspects of their lives are not normal."

In hoarding cases, two laws are enforced by the health department. One concerns the building code and physical function of a house and the second deals with the health and safety of a living situation. Violations of these laws are misdemeanors and can result in a $1,000 to $2,500 fine and jail time from six months to one year.

Because Ly's house was still livable and she was able to quickly remedy a number of the violations, further legal action would not be taken, Yetman said. But, Ly was served with a petition as an unfit owner to the 31 dogs and has been asked to appear in Fairfax County civil court, according to Perez.

"In the Mount Vernon case, you couldn't even walk into the house without a bio suit," said Cordero about Knueven's cat hoarding. "With this [Ly's] house, yeah it was pretty smelly but you didn't need a bio suit to go in there."