Most people who adopt stray pets off the street start out with good, even heroic, intentions. They rescue dogs and/or cats in order to prevent them from suffering outside in the elements or potentially being euthanized in a shelter. According to the ASPCA, at least 20 percent of cats are acquired as strays. Many of these live longer healthier lives in comparison to their feral counterparts. Sometimes, though, well meaning people cross the threshold from hero to horror by becoming animal hoarders. According to the Humane Society of the United States, nearly 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding each year. The “Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium” uses the following criteria to define animal hoarding:
1.More than the typical number of companion animals.
2.Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death.
3.Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling
Obviously, animal hoarders are nothing like the sweet little old ladies whose sole companions are several fluffy felines. They are not the good natured, if a bit odd, old cat ladies we tend to conjure up in our imaginations. Instead, pet hoarders often have hundreds, sometimes even several hundred, animals living within the confines of their home. Typically, the conditions these animals are subjected to are truly deplorable. Dogs, cats and other companion animals are often kept in inappropriately sized crates, cages and kennels, which are then stacked on top of each other or any other available surface. Urine, feces, and other filth often accumulate to such a level that it is frequently more prudent to condemn, rather than clean, a former animal hoarder’s residence.
What is perhaps the most shocking thing about the blatant animal abuse that is pet hoarding is this: typically, the people who hoard pets really are animal lovers at heart. They feel that the creatures they “collect” could not possibly manage without their care. Once called “animal collecting” the term fell into disuse when it became clear that pet hoarding was not a benign hobby, but rather a serious pathological illness. Studies have indicated that loss and neglect are commonly a recurring themes in the upbringing of hoarders. This has lead to speculation that hoarders are, perhaps, using these pets as a means of filling a void. This could explain why many refuse to admit that their pet hoarding situation has gotten out of control even when it is blatantly apparent that their animals have become too much of a burden to bear. Other studies link the condition with OCD and consider it one of the warning signs of the disorder.
Hoarders are also, very often, extremely attached to the very animals they are abusing. Foster pets become permanent, they refuse to relinquish sick pets for veterinary treatment, and according to Pet-Abuse.com “in many instances, hoarders will even be reluctant to relinquish the decomposing corpses of animals that died. Dead animals are frequently found in the freezer or refrigerator, or even laying around the house, embedded in the carpeting, etc. At times, dead animals have been left in the home so long that they have become mummified.” Often, it is not until a neighbor, sanitation, or humane official notices the filth, stench, and noise associated with a hoarder’s dwelling, that the situation is recognized and remedied.
In the past, the demographic for animal hoarders was thought to be almost entirely elderly females. In recent years, however, it has become apparent that both the young and the male can also fall prey to hoarding, which is now considered a component of pathological illness, if not a disorder in itself.