Case Snapshot
Case ID: 20078
Classification: Hoarding
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Friday, Oct 12, 2012

County: Barnstable

Disposition: Alleged

Alleged: Leanne Trefry

Case Updates: 2 update(s) available

Leanne Trefry bristles at the suggestion that she is a hoarder.

She admits she has a cleaning problem, and could use a hand with that. She has also been living in her home on Stony Brook Road for four years without heat -- the furnace was improperly vented, she says -- and sometimes without electricity.

She admits she may be eccentric, but Trefry does not think her problems are insurmountable or that she should be evicted to protect her health and safety. Today, she'll get her chance to convince a judge of that in Barnstable Superior Court.

On Oct. 11, the Brewster Board of Health imposed a condemnation order in August against Tufts University, the owner of the building, and Trefry, who has life tenancy, that asked officials to change the locks, effectively barring her from the home.

"I just wish they would go away, and I would just be allowed to get better," Trefry said.
She claims that when she moved into the Cape-style home four years ago -- which her father willed to Tufts in 1991 -- it was already packed with stuff, "from floor to ceiling." She has been slowly working on reducing that clutter, Trefry said, but that process has been hampered by a succession of illnesses and hospitalizations.

It was an emergency call from Trefry in February 2011 that brought her living conditions to the attention of town officials. Rescue personnel couldn't initially get into the house because of the clutter that blocked entry ways, according to court documents. Once inside, they were confronted with "a severe foul odor" and a mix of clothing, trash, garbage and other items piled nearly shoulder high.

After transporting Trefry to the hospital, fire personnel alerted the health department. A subsequent inspection cited lack of heat; improper exhaust venting for the furnace with a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning; obstruction of exits and passageways; no working sink, oven, shower or refrigerator; garbage left to decay; and a fly infestation.

Town officials then attempted to get Trefry help through various agencies, but were frustrated by her lack of cooperation, Brewster Health Director Nancy Ellis Ice said.

In a July 30 walk-through of the home, Kathie Sullivan, an assistant program manager at Webster Light, a Hyannis-based home-care agency, noted pathways less than 18 inches wide filled with piles of publications and debris 4 feet high. She saw rotting food on the floor, rat droppings and flying insects throughout the house.

Standing in front of her door Wednesday, Trefry saw it another way, sounding articulate and intelligent as she told her side of the story.

Inspectors came after she was sick and had been in the hospital and things naturally rotted in the refrigerator and elsewhere, she said. It's hard, she said, to sort through everything by herself, especially when she has trouble walking. Her medical condition, she said, leaves her sometimes swollen with retained water, requiring her to keep clothes of several sizes.

Trefry does not believe it was fair to penalize her for not cleaning up the house because she was ill or hospitalized for much of that time. She hasn't been able to work and has no money and says she owes thousands of dollars to the town in unpaid property taxes.
If the court sides with the town today, it will not be the first time Trefry has a home under similar circumstances.

Trefry said she nursed her mother and father, Grace and John Trefry, through their final years in their home in Weston. The house was left to her and her brother, and then after his death, his share was inherited by a niece and nephew. Trefry lived there for years but hoarding was an issue, according to Weston Public Health Director Wendy Diotalevi.

"We tried to move her forward, but it was not an easy thing," Diotalevi said Thursday. "She never cleaned up after she moved back in with her parents. There was their stuff and her stuff."

With an average property tax of $14,000 a year, and Trefry lacking any real income, the Weston house had as much as $64,000 in back taxes at one point, according to deeds. It was eventually sold against her will for $2 million in 2004.
Trefry said she has spent money on renovating the Cape house, as well as debts, legal expenses and poor investments.

"The whole thing is really sad," said Diotalevi. "I can understand (Brewster's) level of frustration. I couldn't get her to move."

The Brewster Board of Health would like to see most of the clutter and trash cleared from the home. Trefry wants to sift through it on her own time.

"Leanne wants to go through each piece of paper or article of clothing. For her, it's memories, and it's difficult parting with anything," Ice said.

The August condemnation order did not allow Trefry to return to the house to live, but it is apparent she has been living there. Ice wasn't sure what alternative Trefry might have if the court decides to lock her out of the house today.

Brewster Fire Chief Robert Moran said the danger is clear. With all the flammable material and the narrow passageways, his firefighters cannot safely enter the house in the event of a fire -- a hazard to both the fire department and Trefry. Since she can't afford to stay where she is, possibly the best place for Trefry might be a small apartment in senior housing, Moran said.
"The town doesn't benefit from this," Moran said of the legal action. "Our only concern is for her health and safety."


Case Updates

Leanne Trefry, who was charged with animal cruelty after leaving her two Shetland sheepdogs alone on her condemned property, was evaluated by a court psychologist Thursday at Orleans District Court.

Trefry's Stony Brook Road home was condemned for unsanitary and cluttered conditions by the Brewster Board of Health in 2012. Her two dogs, however, remained on the property for months after Trefry was forced out of the house.

The Brewster animal control officer took the dogs away and charged the 69-year-old with animal cruelty in August. The dogs have been living in a foster home.

Trefry was interviewed by the court psychologist to see if she is competent to stand trial, said her attorney, Arnold Lett; the results of the psychological evaluation are not yet public.

She is due back in court on Feb. 18.

Trefry denies she neglected her two dogs, Zach and Kenji, Lett said.

"So we're trying to find a solution that works for everyone," he added.
Source: Cape Code Times - Jan 10, 2014
Update posted on Apr 21, 2014 - 4:54PM 
For months now, neighbors have heard barking from the backyard of a condemned house on Stony Brook Road. But there's no owner there to soothe the two Shetland sheepdogs.

"They howl and they sound scared," said Nick Zappia, who lives next door.

Zappia's neighbor Leanne Trefry has been out of the Stony Brook Road house since November, said the Rev. John Dolan, of nearby Our Lady of the Cape church. The Brewster Board of Health condemned the property last summer after piles of clothes, rotting food and trash were piled 4 feet high inside.

But Trefry's dogs are still on the private property. They live in a fenced-in, overgrown backyard with a doghouse for shelter and access to the inside of the house, said Police Chief Richard Koch. Dolan has been feeding them.

But the dogs' licenses are not up to date, and there is no record that they have current rabies shots, according to Brewster Town Clerk Colette Williams.

Neighbors have been calling the town and the police for months to have someone care for them. But the police say there isn't much they can do.

"I know they are ungroomed and have ticks," Koch said in an email to the Times. But, technically, the dogs are not neglected, and cannot legally be removed from the property, he wrote.

"If they were 'neglected,' nobody would be giving them food or water, and we would remove them," he said.

It's a bit of uncharted territory, defining the point and time when the animals are considered neglected, Koch said. Ultimately, it's up to the animal control officer's discretion, he said.

Trefry, who could not be reached for comment, is in a medical facility, Koch said. Her lawyer traded voice mails with a Times reporter but could not be reached for an interview.

The animal control officer, Lynda Brogden-Burns, visited the dogs as recently as July 12 and has talked several times with Trefry, police Capt. Heath Eldredge wrote in an email to the Times.

In April, Brogden-Burns sent a warning letter to Trefry because the dogs were not being provided adequate shelter, wrote Eldredge.

"To protect the animals while Ms. Trefrey worked on providing a shelter, we temporarily took custody of the dogs and had them boarded," he wrote. "Ms. Trefry did make the required improvements to her property, and the dogs were returned."

They were returned to the unoccupied property, groomed and fluffy, Koch said.
But the dogs' long hair soon became matted and tick-infested again, according to a neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous.

The animal control officer recently consulted with colleagues, including Lt. Alan Borgal, of the law enforcement department of the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

"At this point, though the dogs living conditions are not ideal, Lt. Borgal and Brewster animal control have determined that the shelter and care for the dogs is within legal limits," Eldredge wrote.

Trefry could voluntarily give up custody of the dogs, but so far she refuses, Dolan said.

He has been feeding the dogs since November to help Trefry, he said. But recently he decided he cannot continue because "I am enabling the dogs to remain in a bad situation."

The priest said he has told Trefry he will stop feeding the dogs on July 31. He hopes that she will decide to voluntarily give up the animals. If she doesn't, he hopes the town will have the power to move them if they aren't being fed, he said.

The dog officer and Animal Rescue League are trying to set up a meeting with the Brewster Board of Health, Trefry and her attorney, according to emails between the police chief and Brogden-Burns.

Attempts to reach Trefry's attorney, Anthony Alva, were not successful.
If the dogs are removed or Trefry gives them up, New England Sheltie Rescue, which takes in abandoned or unwanted Shetland sheepdogs, will accept them, said Alanna Kelly, of Norwood, who volunteers with the organization.

Trefry moved into the house about four years ago. Her father had left it in his will to Tufts University, but granted her life-tenancy, she told the Times last year.

The modest Brewster home was once beautifully landscaped, neighbor Ben Aleo said. But the yard is now a tangle of bramble and weeds. A white Cadillac Escalade and a horse trailer -- unlicensed -- are parked on the property.

Trefry came to the attention of the Brewster Board of Health in February 2011 when she called the rescue squad.

At first, firefighters couldn't get into her house because of the clutter. Once inside, they were confronted with a "severe foul odor" and 4-foot piles of her belongings, according to court documents.

The Board of Health condemned the Stony Brook house in August, but Trefry was allowed to return to clean it.

It became clear, however, that she was still living there even after it was condemned. The town rescue squad was called there four times and found Trefry inside, according to court documents. In November, a Barnstable judge imposed a restraining order, barring her from the property, which police say is still active.

According to Barnstable Superior Court records, a civil case related to Trefry's occupation of the house is due back in court on Sept. 10.

"Many agencies are involved in trying to help her, and neighbors have tried to help as well," Koch said. "But all of the assistance hasn't improved the situation. So the next question is, where do we go from here?"
Source: Cape Code Online - July 26, 2013
Update posted on Apr 21, 2014 - 4:52PM 

References

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