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Article updated: 10/25/2012 12:48 PM

Aurora to take over bird hoarder home cleanup Friday

Resident doesn’t want city to clean townhouse that had possibly hundreds of birds and bill him for it

By Elisabeth Mistretta

An Aurora man who admits he's spent years hoarding hundreds of birds and mounds of garbage now faces a Friday deadline to clean up the mess.

Aurora officials on Wednesday night attempted to serve a court order to Dave Skeberdis, 57, saying they will arrive Friday to remove the birds and clear all pathways of his home on the 200 block of Shadybrook Lane, which is cluttered with bird feed, bird feces and garbage.

Skeberdis said Wednesday he hopes to avoid a bill from a city-hired cleaning crew that could top $13,000.

He plans to work on the cleanup until Friday, despite warnings from city officials that the home is unsafe and should not be entered without proper protective gear. Air quality tests taken last week confirmed the two-story townhouse on the city's far east side has mold counts up to 15 times higher than normal.

Officials also tested adjoining townhouses but found mold levels there to be safe.

"It got out of control. I realize that now," Skeberdis said. "But they wanted me to sign a paper with a $13,478 provision that made me liable for the crew ... but they are not doing any cleanup, just clearing pathways. Can you imagine what the bill is going to be to clean up the house? And if I don't pay it in a certain amount of time they'd put a lien on my home."

Skeberdis initially cooperated with police and fire officials when they executed a search warrant last Friday. A Kane County judge granted the warrant last week after a painter working at the house reported seeing dead birds through the windows and authorities investigated.

But on Tuesday night, Skeberdis revoked permission for cleanup crews to continue due to the cost. Aurora officials said they could not confirm the price tag.

Aurora city attorney Alayne Weingartz said police and fire teams could not stop Skeberdis or take over cleanup quickly without the court order from Kane County.

Members of the Aurora Fire Department's hazardous materials unit and Aurora Animal Control and Care began removing some birds last week. Deputy Fire Chief John Lehman said nearly 200 birds are likely in the home's basement and roughly another 100 are divided between the first and second floors.

While there are cages in the home, most birds are flying free or roosting, Lehman said.

Skeberdis said Wednesday there are only "about 80 or 100" finches, canaries, parakeets, conures, cockatiels and other species in the house.

Lehman said it's impossible to estimate the number of birds due to the large amount of debris still blocking all floors and stairways.

"This is an extremely unhealthy environment to operate in," Lehman said. "The city is acting in the best interest of the residents."

Aurora Animal Control arranged for a veterinarian to assess the health of the birds as they are removed from the house and for volunteers from the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club to care for them. Skeberdis said he signed papers agreeing to both steps.

With piles of garbage bags and some cages outside his home, as well as a large Dumpster, Skeberdis worked on cleanup Wednesday. Many volunteers have offered help, he said, but they can't enter the home because of the unsafe conditions.

"I've got to give (the cleanup) that good, old college try, because the situation is, I can't afford it," Skeberdis said. "I think it would be a shame if they moved up the date on me. I know the city doesn't think I can do it, but I can."

Skeberdis said he understands his hoarding has become a "public nuisance" and regrets affecting his neighbors with police and media activity outside his residence, as well as placing so much garbage near their homes.

"I'm so sorry for what I've done to my neighbors," he said. "It's been a circus."

Skeberdis said his bird collection started more than seven years ago when he rescued a wild parakeet. He then added more parakeets, which he said "breed like mice," and he has been collecting birds ever since.

"The problem is that I got him a couple of friends," Skeberdis said.

Skeberdis, who has never married and has no children, said his electricity was turned off recently when he faced some financial difficulties. Lack of light prevented him from seeing the dead birds spotted by the painter, he said.

The birds eat about 150 pounds of feed a week and Skeberdis said his pets are "almost like children."

"They talk, they're real intellectual," he said.

In addition, he said several years ago he got into the habit of returning home only once every one or two weeks and began constantly shopping for new clothes rather than doing laundry, which contributed to his hoarding. But he insisted he could still navigate his home "like a puzzle."

"I'd be on the run, I didn't have time to wash, so I'd buy clothes," he said.

Skeberdis currently is living at a hotel that allows long-term stays in Lisle.

City officials said the DuPage County Health Department has reached out to Skeberdis directly to offer counseling and other services for his well-being.

In addition to obtaining the court order, Aurora officials on Wednesday declared the property a nuisance, cited the property with two maintenance code violations, as well as for violations involving four sections of the city's ordinance dealing with care and control of animals. Any potential penalties or fines will be assessed when the investigation has been completed, said authorities.

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