I met Denise (not actual name) through a feline rescue organization, Whiskers (also not actual name) that I had spent many years promoting and helping out in various ways. She was in her early 30s, married and enthusiastic when given a task. In fact, she tended to be far more helpful than most of the other volunteers. While I worked with her, we talked about our pets. During this time I learned that she had 105 cats and 12 dogs. She owned two homes in which she housed and cared for them. As she had been a volunteer for the Whiskers Rescue Group, I had assumed she abided by their rules and regulations – animals vaccinated, spayed/neutered, brought back to health and adopted out to loving families.
I was very wrong. While the president of the Whiskers Rescue Group had mentioned something about Denise not having a good record of adopting out the animals she fostered, I had merely thought that it was difficult to do so when there are more animals than there are good homes for them. Then one night I heard Denise’s name and her husband’s on the news. They were arrested as animal hoarders. The scene at their house was ghastly. There was 3-4 inches of excrement on the floors of their home. Many of the animals lived in their own excrement, and died there. Containers of dead animals were strewn in their yard and in their basement. There was a block of ice containing dead cats in an upstairs refrigerator. Most of the dogs and cats were malnourished, had festering injuries and had to be euthanized due to their poor chances of regaining any semblance of health. There were 117 live animals and 186 dead ones.
I was totally shocked. I had liked Denise. She had been very helpful; appeared normal. I had no idea of animal hoarding being a common psychological illness. Denise and her husband were charged and spent some time in jail. Court orders forbade them from ever owning or adopting another animal.
What can cause such a horrific situation as animal hoarding? How many animal lovers and even animal rescues go from helping animals to abusing them?
There is a common psychology behind most animal hoarders. Some were abused as children and see animals as a means of having control of something in their lives. The person often lives alone, though not always, and the majority of the hoarders tend to be middle aged, to elderly women who feel the need to care for someone in order to feel fulfilled. They often feel as though nobody else can properly care for their animals and hence will not take them for regular veterinary care, even when injured (though the real reason is that they cannot afford to do so). Animal hoarders often have obsessive-compulsive disorders, compelling them to continue collecting animals every chance they get. Working for rescue organizations or shelters is a means to obtain more. Most people working with them will see a big heart and not the confused mind behind their actions. Reclusive behavior is another symptom, as animal hoarders subconsciously realize that a visitor in their home will view their animals differently.
While many animal lovers want to rescue and find homes for as many abandoned animals as possible, it is important to remain grounded in the reality that success will only come from using resources wisely. Each animal must receive veterinary care, food and appropriate housing. They cannot, and should never, spend their entire lives in a crate. They need attention and exercise to live a healthy, normal life, regardless of their current circumstances of being in a foster environment. This means that a facility needs to advocate a specific amount of space and resources and restrict themselves from overflow, at risk of being abusive to those already within their care.
Moreover, if you speak to someone who seems to have an inordinate amount of animals, it would be wise to look into the situation more closely. Ask to visit. It may happen that you come across a specific animal that someone might be searching for. Or, you could walk into a total nightmare that needs to be addressed by the appropriate authorities. Either way, the animals will benefit from a little of your time.