“No one will set foot anywhere near that unit.” That’s the first thing the manager told us regarding the apartment of a recently evicted tenant. Not only did her janitorial staff refuse to complete their duties in the unit after the tenant left, the occupants of the neighboring apartment moved out! What would be bad enough to motivate a neighbor to pack up their entire life just to get away? As we made our way up the sidewalk toward the unit to take a look, we were quickly greeted with the answer; the foul stench of pet urine and feces. The odor came not from one, two or three, but from over twenty cats in a two-bedroom apartment. Today’s job: removal of carpet, carpet strips, padding and odor in the apartment of a cat hoarder.
While the smell that accompanies death can linger a bit, animal urine has incredible staying power. Animals mark their territory with urine, so it is by design that the smell stick around to ward off intruders. The poignant pungence of over twenty cats continually spraying the walls of a confined apartment over time is beyond explanation. And the brutality of stink in this unit wasn’t constrained to urine only. Cat feces was scattered throughout the house, particularly in the closets; which likely served the cats as pseudo-litter boxes. Worse still, many of the cat droppings had been smashed into the carpet after having been either walked on or compressed from the tenants belongings. Though we weren’t dealing with blood, body fluids or tissue in this case, we still had to take full precautions to protect ourselves. Animal urine and feces can carry or attract bacteria, viruses, insects, rodents and disease.
As with every call we take, the longer the scene has been in a hazardous condition the more difficult our job will be. It was quite obvious that the safety of this unit had been compromised for many months. The urine and feces soiled carpet and padding was, for a lack of a better term, fused to the concrete below it. We had to take a large metal scrapper to get underneath and pull it up. Afterward, we carefully rolled up the carpet, taped it off and hauled it out. Next, we removed each and every tack strip in the unit. Tack strips present one of the greatest dangers in any scene we do as they can puncture the skin and deliver bacteria and pathogens into the blood stream. After having removed all the soiled items and tack strips, we disinfected the walls and floors of the unit; making it safe for the janitorial staff to finish their duties.
As we stood outside the unit peeling off our protective suits that were now soaked with sweat, we thought to ourselves the one question that lingers in our heads throughout any hoarding job we do, “How could anyone live like this?”