Some popular TV series (A&E’s “Hoarders,” TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” and Animal Planet’s “Animal Hoarding”) helped bring to the forefront the psychological disorder of hoarding. Though I didn’t watch any of these shows (I couldn’t even watch their promos, made me that uneasy), the general public is now more aware of this harmful “lifestyle” of not only hoarders but also animals if they are they are the objects of hoarding.
Animal hoarding is more of a problem than I thought. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, up to 250,000 animals per year, mostly cats and then dogs, are the objects of hoarders’ “affection.” The ADLF states that “hoarding is the number one animal cruelty crisis facing companion animals in communities throughout the country.” What is the difference between, say, a cat hoarder and a cat lover, who just adores those furry felines and cares for a dozen of them?A true cat lover will provide daily fresh water, food, and a clean environment (especially those litter boxes), along with time, affection and, when needed, veterinary care. Hoarders don’t provide this basic care. Hoarders often have hundreds of animals that when rescued are victims of severe malnutrition, open and weeping sores, dental and eye diseases, cancer and psychological distress. But does possessing large numbers of animals necessarily make one a hoarder? No, it doesn’t.
What distinguishes hoarders is their inability to properly care for their animals and to not acknowledge the animals’ sufferings and their usually deteriorating home. The Animal Legal and Historical Center provides an example: “A Canadian woman who died leaving one hundred properly fed, spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and groomed cats was not considered an animal hoarder because her animals were properly cared for, while a Utah woman who severely neglected six cats was considered an animal hoarder” (http://animallaw.info).
So, does the lack of basic care and not seeing the suffering mean that animal hoarders are cruel? Not according to some researchers who believe that good intentions to save and help animals are, at first, foremost in hoarders’ minds. Then, for unknown reasons, saving turns into hoarding. In fact, according to psychologist Jim Claiborn, “I have never encountered a single case in which there was a malicious or cruel intent. . . . After all, most of them live in the same filthy conditions as their animals” (http://animallaw.info).
What turns an animal lover into an animal hoarder? According to the ALDF, psychiatric literature has not really addressed animal hoarding, but some researchers believe this is a mental health issue. They contend that perhaps underlying mental illnesses propel hoarding behavior.
These illnesses include obsessive-compulsive disorder, which compels one to save things; addiction, such as one has to drugs, gambling, shopping and so on; focal delusional disorder, which makes hoarders believe that the animals are not being harmed; and the attachment model, which “suggests that hoarders use animals to fulfill a need for personal attachment that they are unable to fulfill through human relationships” (http://animallaw.info).
What can we do about this? All states have animal cruelty laws that encompass this issue, but courts are crowded with cases, like mayhem and murder, that take precedence over animal abuse cases, so it may take a long time before a hoarder goes to court. However, please call your local law enforcement or animal control if you suspect that someone is an animal hoarder.
As a final note to this subject, keep in mind that most animal hoarders are not bad people and mental illness might be involved, but their animals are suffering from abuse. That is never acceptable.
To wrap up this week’s article, please stop by Walmart tomorrow between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and say “Hi.” We’ll be there with our usual wares for sale: short- and long-sleeved shirts, caps, zipped and pullover hoodies, sweatshirts, totes of different sizes, calendars and some baked goodies. Ki, one of our most dedicated four-legged volunteers, will be waiting for you in his Kissin’ Booth.
This week’s article was contributed by Betty Duncan, a member of the CAPS board of directors.