This week’s topic is the complex subject of “animal hoarders”. To listen to the podcast click on the link at the foot of this page.
Everyone knows an example of this type of individual. Examples include the local “cat lady” who shares her home with twenty or thirty cats living in conditions where the animals are not being cared for as they should be, the “dog person” who takes in any wandering animal, living with ten or fifteen dogs that are not receiving adequate attention. Extreme examples are regularly reported in the media, accompanied by sad photos of large groups of neglected animals living in cramped quarters.
In the past thirty years, animal hoarding has been recognised as a symptom of mental health disorder, requiring intervention by professional psychiatric services.
Four key characteristics of animal hoarding have been defined.
- Failure to provide minimal standards of hygiene, living space, nutrition, and veterinary care
- Inability to recognise the effects of this failure on the welfare of the animals, human members of the household, and the environment.
- Obsessive attempts to accumulate or maintain a collection of animals in the face of progressively deteriorating conditions.
- Denial of the problem: any animal hoarders reading this article are unlikely to believe that they are affected by this syndrome.
Three types of hoarders have been identified.
- The “overwhelmed caregiver” is most common: the local cat-lady or dog-sympathiser are examples. Their love of helping animals gradually leads to an out-of-control situation that requires outside assistance.
- The “exploiter hoarder”: this is a person who deliberately seeks out animals to acquire a collection that they can show off to others. Examples include dog breeders and showers who have many animals of a particular type kept in confined quarters with poor quality of life
- The “rescuer hoarder”. These people have a strong desire to save animals which gradually gets out of control. They start with adequate resources for animal care, and acquire animals actively, but over time, the demand for their care outstrips their ability to provide it. They end up swamped with too many animals that they cannot cope with.
Signs that may indicate someone is an animal hoarder:
- They have many animals and may even have lost count themselves
- Their home is chaotic and poorly maintained
- There is an offensive smell with urine, faeces and other bodily secretions not being cleaned up properly
- Animals are thin, hungry, unkempt and often fearful of strangers
- The person is adamant that all the animals are happy and healthy when it is obvious to outsiders that they are not
How You Can Help
If you think someone you know has a problem with animal hoarding, you should take some action to help, difficult as this may be.
Perhaps the best answer in Ireland is to call the ISPCA National Animal Cruelty Helpline on 1890 515515 or the equivalent in your own country. This is a job for professionals who are used to dealing with the complexities of this type of situation.
It is not easy to help animal hoarders: often, the only option is prosecution for (accidental) animal cruelty, with confiscation of all animals. Psychiatric intervention is also needed, because most hoarders re-offend: it’s a compulsion that does not go away by itself.
Queries about pets from from listeners
Pete answered the following questions from listeners:
- My dog is slow to learn to be housetrained: could he have learning difficulties, like some humans?
- Are lilies and poinsettias dangerous to cats?
- My dog follows me around the house, all day, every day. What’s going on?
- My six month old Malshi eats her own poo. How can we stop this?
To hear Pete’s answers to these questions, click on the play button below.