ABC News recently sent a reporter to Pennsylvania and Maryland to interview people with addictive personalities who collect dozens—sometimes hundreds—of pets. Dubbed “animal hoarders,” these people spare no expense for their pets while living in squalid conditions themselves. According to ABC News, animal control workers in one hoarder’s home found “dangerously high levels of ammonia” from all the urine on the floor.
For those who don’t work in the animal welfare industry, the term “animal hoarder” may be foreign. For those of us who have dealt with them, the scene is horrifying. An animal hoarder is someone who owns more than the typical number of companion animals; they have a compulsion to bring more and more into their home. Hoarders may have an inability to provide even minimal care for the animals in their home and they generally will deny there is a problem, even when there are clear signs of illness in the animals. The result can sometimes mean conditions in a home where animals are ill, starving, and many times, already deceased.
According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, many hoarder dwellings have been condemned as unfit for human habitation. The air is so polluted from the high levels of ammonia, that people can’t enter the home without respiratory masks. In the major hoarding case I was involved with at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, the resident of the home was living in his garage, while his 300 cats had taken over his 800-square-foot home. We had to wear hazardous material suits and breathing apparatuses to rescue the cats. Even with those precautions, we could only operate at 15 minute intervals due to the unbearable air quality. Unfortunately, most of these cats were wild and suffering from illnesses and had to be humanely euthanized. (This situation was filmed and televised on Animal Planet in an episode of Animal Cops Detroit entitled “House of Cats”).
Animal hoarders may start out with good intentions. They think they are saving these animals, but they get in way over their heads and fail to ask for help. In most of the cases, the hoarders not only fall short of providing for the animals in their care, but they fail to provide for themselves. Recent research proves there is a direct correlation between psychological problems and the tendency to hoard. According to Randall Lockwood, vice president of Research and Educational Outreach at the Humane Society of the United States, “Hoarding is very often a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. For most hoarders, it is likely that their actions are the result of a true pathology, even though they are still usually able to function quite well in society.”
Animal hoarding has become so widespread that there is even a new series on Animal Planet called “Confessions: Animal Hoarding.” There are more than 3,500 cases a year, affecting 250,000 animals annually. According to Animal Planet, in most cases, animal hoarding is not addressed until it becomes a crime. This new series explores the human side of this problem and takes on the task of intervening.
Those considered animal hoarders often appear to lead normal lives. At first glance, it may be difficult to recognize when a person’s fixation with animals has gotten out of control. Many times it’s a neighbor that reports an animal hoarder due to the overwhelming smell that starts to seep from their home. Community members can help animal hoarders get the help they need, while also rescuing animals, by notifying authorities as soon as possible if they suspect a hoarder.
Not only are the animals involved in these cases at risk of physical and mental distress, but the animal hoarders themselves suffer psychological anguish, as well as physical health risks.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stresses that not everyone who has multiple animals should be considered an animal hoarder. If someone owns many animals that are all spayed and neutered and they provide the essentials for the animals as well as veterinary care, they would not be considered an animal hoarder.
Taking in animals to love and care for provides companionship and also helps the over crowded conditions at many animal shelters. However, going way beyond one’s capability—to the point of hoarding—puts animals and individuals at risk. If you do see signs of hoarding, please do not be afraid of getting involved. You will not only be helping someone out of a situation that may have gotten out of control, but you could be saving the lives of animals that could find loving homes.
ASAP Kitten Promotion for the Month of August
Santa Barbara Animal Shelter Assistance Program (ASAP) is offering two kittens for the price of one for the entire month of August—$65 for two kittens up to 6 months of age. ASAP is located at Animal Services, 5473 Overpass Rd. (just beyond the Humane Society). Regular business hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sundays. Contact ASAP at 683-3368 or visit their website at asapcats.org for more information.
If you object to the animal cruelty that too often accompanies rodeos, please join in demonstrating against the Fiesta Rodeo. There will be signs available to hold, although you are welcome to bring your own. Meet at the corner of Las Positas and Via Real, at the following dates and times: August 6, 6:30 p.m., August 7, 6:30 p.m., and August 8, 12:30 p.m.
Traveling with Pets
San Diego-based travel journalist Maggie Espinosa recently published a book titled The Privileged Pooch: Luxury Travel with Your Pet In Southern California. The 206-page, full-color guide profiles unique pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, activities, and shops from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Twenty-one pages are devoted to the Santa Barbara/Ojai area. For more information, visit travelwithmaggie.com.