By: Eleni Hale, Herald Sun, Australia
AN increase in the number of people keeping excessive numbers of animals in their homes and garages has shocked authorities.
Some of the hoarders are even keeping the bones of dead pets.
In the past year, about 200 hoarding cases have been uncovered nationally.
In many cases the animals never leave the house or are kept in cages stacked to the ceiling, resulting in a build-up of faeces and carcasses.
Recent Victorian cases include:
A FAIRFIELD woman kept nearly 100 birds in stacked cages in her one-bedroom flat. There was no room for a bed. Chicks were kept in wicker baskets above oil heaters to "keep them warm".
A WESTERN suburbs man kept 40 rabbits in his garage. After RSPCA inspectors removed the animals the man replaced them with more rabbits.
A MIDDLE-AGED man in Rye kept 50 cats in a two-storey house and decorated his kitchen bench with the bones of dead cats. The animals rarely went outside and the house was covered in filth.
Animal hoarding is costing the RSPCA up to $1 million a year, with about 15 per cent of the group's anti-cruelty enforcement budget going towards fighting legal challenges from accused hoarders.
Mental health, animal welfare and even fire-fighting experts gathered in Melbourne on Friday to discuss a solution to the growing problem, as the RSPCA called for animal hoarding to be labelled a mental illness.
Some puppy farm owners and people who claim to be running animal shelters have also been exposed as hoarders.
RSPCA inspector Allie Jalbert said many were older women living in isolation.
She said hoarders started collecting animals with the intention of rescuing them, but the situation spiralled out of control.
"They think they are saving the animals, but instead find themselves in a situation where they cannot cope," Ms Jalbert said.
"The majority live in suburbia and we become involved when neighbours complain about the smell."
South Australian couple Joseph and Margarete Higham sparked a nationwide hunt last year when they packed most of their 120 dogs into a ute and fled to Victoria after being convicted of animal cruelty in Adelaide Magistrates' Court.