Friday, June 26, 2009

Animal hoarding confounds police departments

Authorities say they try to get help when they find hoarders

By Wendy E. Normandy

Oak Lawn police responding to an odor complaint were not prepared for what they found in a 68-year-old man's apartment earlier this year.

Ninety-five turtles and tortoises of various sizes were crowded into a dozen or so plastic storage tubs half-filled with dirty water. There also were 20 newts, 12 salamanders and numerous other reptiles, plus as many as 100 dead turtles and the remains of an 18-inch-long alligator, police said.

Rescue workers knew immediately what they were dealing with: an animal hoarder...

Oak Lawn Deputy Police Chief Roger Pawlowski said officers try to tread carefully.

"We often try instead to get them to agree to relinquish the animals in lieu of being charged with animal cruelty," he said. "If we can get the animals relocated to a shelter, it gives us more time to address the situation with the hoarder and, hopefully, convince them to get help."...

Experts say counseling and close monitoring are needed with a hoarder to prevent recurrence. "The relapse rate can be near 100 percent. ... If allowed to relocate, they often start the collecting process all over again," said Dr. Phil Heller, a Florida-based clinical and forensic psychologist who is an obsessive-compulsive disorder specialist.

As for how to detect hoarders, Estrada said she would like to see people become more aware of what goes on with their neighbors. "If they suspect that someone is having a problem with their pets, whether they suspect they are hoarding or not, it's easy to make an anonymous call to authorities or the welfare league and bring it to someone's attention," she said.

Signs of a hoarder include window shades that are kept closed all day, excess newspapers and numerous bags of litter in garbage cans, and odors coming from the house or backyard. "All we're asking people to do is make that initial phone call if they suspect any type of animal abuse," Estrada said. "We'll take it from there."...

Public domain photo