By Cheryl Fiandaca

BOSTON (CBS) – The Animal Rescue League of Boston says it is seeing a huge spike in animal hoarding. In 2017, the league took 348 animals out of overcrowded homes. In 2018, that number tripled to 1,024.

The I-Team spoke with a hoarder on the road to recovery. He didn’t want to be identified but did want to tell his story. “Four dogs, six cats, six rabbits, eight lizards and 20 snakes,” he said listing off the animals he had on the property of his South Shore home.

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With too many pets and too much clutter, the conditions inside the tiny home got so bad, rescue workers had to wear hazmat suits to get the animals out. “I saw them with masks on and suits carrying stuff out. I didn’t believe I was living like this,” the pet owner recalled.

Hoarder’s house (WBZ-TV)

He told the I-Team he started out with a few pets and little by little grew into taking in strays and other pets whose owners could no longer keep them. At some point, he said, he stopped taking care of his home and himself. Last July his hoarding became a crisis when a neighbor saw smoke coming from his roof and called 9-1-1.

When the fire department arrived and saw the condition of the home, they called animal control, the board of health and the Animal Rescue League.

Lieutenant Alan Borgal, the Director of Law Enforcement for the ARL, says it’s hard for people to see they are neglecting the animals. He told WBZ, the ARL has police powers, but he needs to involve the rescue unit to help the people. In an emergency they need to secure the animals first.

In this case, the animals were taken to the town shelter where most were adopted.

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Animals rescued from hoarder’s house (WBZ-TV)

The town condemned the home. The owner who, is on Social Security, admitted he needed help and enrolled in a 16 week program for hoarders.

Laura Howe, the Whitman dog officer, told WBZ that knowing he was working on himself helped her get town folks to donate labor and materials to rebuild his home. “I wanted to help him. We got him a stove, fridge, vanity, the electric is all new,” she said.

Grateful, the homeowner says everything will stay new and clean. With a fresh start he’ll also get to keep a few of his pets–including Beauty and Kyle two of his senior dogs.

He expects to be back in his home with his animals in about a month.

The Animal Rescue League says it is trying to deal with hoarding compassionately. Only resorting to criminal charges where there is cruelty.

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If you know of anyone who is overwhelmed with animals and needs help, the ARL says you can call their rescue unit or contact your local animal control officer.

Cheryl Fiandaca