Here in Arizona it seems like almost every week another story about animal hoarding shows up in the news. A recent case that really stands out in my mind happened in Glendale where an officer had gone to serve an eviction notice to a woman who had been squatting in the house for two years. That’s when officers discovered 52 dogs that were left outdoors with no shelter, they had been severely mistreated. Two of the dogs were dead and a third one died before it got to the animal hospital.
Another case I recently found out about happened in Indiana where a woman was found to have 70 cats in a home as well as several dogs. Crews from the local animal shelter had to wear full hazmat suits just to enter the home and remove the cats. The smell in the home was unbearable. Said one crew member, “Every square inch of the home was covered in feces and urine. It’s just horribly sad.”
Cats are hoarded more often than dogs, but some people hoard all types of animals from rodents to reptiles to horses. No matter what type of animal is suffering in these types of situations, it just makes me sick to my stomach when I hear about them.
Arizona recently passed a low that now makes animal hoarding a Class 1 misdemeanor. A person can be convicted if they own, possess, harbor or maintain 10 or more animals under circumstances considered “injurious” to the health or welfare of any animal or person. “Injurious” circumstances include unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, inhumane conditions, failure to provide appropriate medical care, clean drinking water or proper food for the animals. If a person is convicted under this statute they will be ordered to receive a mental health evaluation and will be ordered to pay for the cost of care for the animals. Not only that, but the court may also order periodic inspections of their property and prohibit them from owning any animals in the future.
While I think this is a step in the right direction, I wanted to delve deeper into what causes a person to become an animal hoarder in the first place. I’ll confess, one of my guilty pleasures is watching the TV show “Hoarders.” While I’m not the most meticulous housekeeper, I always feel like my house isn’t so bad when I’m watching that show. I’ve found that there are many similarities between hoarders in general and animal hoarders.
Why Do People Hoard Animals?
Oftentimes animal hoarders have been raised in a very dysfunctional household, have come from unstable parenting and many times have suffered abuse as a child. Perhaps a childhood pet was their only source of comfort and solace during their abusive childhood. As adults they may become compulsive caregivers, which is what makes caring for animals so comforting and appealing to them. They often have issues of wanting to take control, and animals are definitely easier to control that people. Taken to the extreme, they sometimes even save the dead bodies of animals. I distinctly remember an episode of Hoarders where a woman who hoarded cats kept their deceased bodies in her freezer. They may start out with good intentions of caring for the animals, but as they acquire more and more animals the situation evolves into something more than they can control.
They Believe They Are Helping
Animal hoarders really do think they are helping the animals, but soon find themselves in over their heads and unable to provide even minimal care once their hoard becomes too large. However, they lack insight into how they are neglecting the animals and causing them to suffer and die.
Animal hoarding crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, although typically it seems to happen more often with the elderly or more isolated individuals. And women tend to hoard animals more often than men. They may even try to hide in plain sight by posing as an animal shelter or rescue group, but a legitimate rescue or shelter puts the needs of their animals first and would never allow them to be abused or neglected.
How to Spot an Animal Hoarder
Most of the time an animal hoarder will be dysfunctional in other areas of their life such as at work or in their day-to-day activities. They may be unable to form close relationships with other people. While animal hoarding is not yet a specifically clinically defined psychological condition, often animal hoarding behavior is linked with other psychological disorders such as borderline personality disorder. However, a common misperception is that it is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Is There Help Available for Hoarders?
If you’ve ever watched “Hoarders,” you’ve seen that there are several different psychologists and psychiatrists on the show who specializing in hoarding disorders. And just like on the show, some animal hoarders can and do respond to the right therapeutic approach. While they all struggle to admit that they actually have a problem, some of them are grateful for the help they receive and are actually relieved and happy once their environment has been freed of all the “stuff” and is clean and livable again. Then there are others who get very angry and upset and fight tooth and nail against any attempts to help them. The same can be said of animal hoarders.
However, for the sake of the poor animals who are caught in a hoarding situation, something has to be done and I believe stiffer enforcement and penalties are a great start. I do feel sorry for some of the people who get caught up in these situations, but even more sorry for the animals. I hope they can get the help they need. But there are some hoarders who are just cruel and have no regard for life and they need to face the maximum penalties.
If we all stay more vigilant about what is going on around us, we can help to put a stop to this disgusting situation and save more animals from a cruel fate.