Guest Post written by Maggie Marton - part one of three, in a series on animal hoarding.
Yesterday, A&E began the fourth season of their hit show Hoarders. In each 60-minute episode, the reality show explores the lives of two hoarders and attempts to help them clean up their homes. Hoarding is a disease characterized by the compulsion to collect and fail to throw away things. Those “things” are unique to the hoarder: some hoard trash, newspapers, dolls, stickers, memorabilia, clothing, you name it.
Others hoard animals.
In fact, almost 250,000 animals are hoarding victims every year, according to The Humane Society of the United States.
Though animal hoarding is often attributed to collecting cats – spawning the “crazy cat lady” stereotype – animal hoards include all types of animals. In one episode of Hoarders, for example, a gentleman hoarded more than 2,000 rats.
In many cases, the hoarder believes they’re helping the animals, when in reality the animals suffer from neglect. Most animal hoarders don’t provide adequate food, veterinary care, or sanitary conditions. “Animal hoarders typically have more animals than they can adequately care for while denying this inability, often despite obvious signs of animal neglect, suffering, and often death,” said Sarah Hayes, CEO of the Monroe County Humane Association, an organization that has assisted on numerous hoarding rescues.
Simply put, animal hoarding is animal abuse.
Sadly, animal hoarding is a tremedously difficult animal welfare issue to tackle, in part because of the isolation and durress in which hoarders live, and in part because of the prohibitive amount of time, expense, and personnell required to aid an animal hoarder.
“Many communities have few resources to address hoarding, including a complete lack of animal control or an animal shelter,” said Hayes. “This creates an even more difficult circumstance for law enforcement or other animal welfare agencies to intervene before it reaches the level of animal cruelty or becomes a public health risk.”
Hoarding behavior isn’t understood clearly, either. Though it’s considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), research shows that the medication used to treat OCD isn’t effective in treating hoarding. Further, the illness prevents the hoarder from actually seeing the implications of their hoard. They often deny that they can’t care for the animals, even when faced with dead animals located within their home. Their disease prevents them from being able to see, smell, and grasp the condition of their home and their animals.
As Hayes explained, "Animal hoarding is a multifaceted issue encompassing mental and public health, as well as the health and safety of the animals being hoarded and the hoarder themselves."
The reality is, animal hoarding doesn’t have a simple fix. Often, the fixes are simply patches – helping the animals in desperate need without helping (or even being able to help) the hoarder.
Tomorrow, in part two of this three-part look at animal hoarding, I’ll share my personal experience with a recent rescue of dogs from a local hoarder.
Image: Monroe County Humane Association
Maggie Marton is a freelance writer, editor, and grammar junkie. She lives in Bloomington, IN with her husband and two darling dogs.
Visit her online at www.maggiemarton.com or ohmydogblog.com.