Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Who are animal hoarders?

by Stephanie Manson

Almost 100 cats were recently rescued from a home in Creve Coeur. The house, where a 47-year-old woman lived alone, not only contained live cats, but dead ones, and according to authorities, the living conditions were pretty squalid. In other words, she was what we now call an animal hoarder.

Animal hoarding as a separate mental illness is a relatively new phenomenon and there isn’t much written about it. One person who has tackled the subject is Gary J. Patronek, vice president of animal welfare at the Animal Rescue League of Boston and co-author of a study on animal hoarding.

Patronek surveyed animal shelters and took detailed histories on a number of cases. He found that most hoarders lived alone; over half of them were female; 46 percent were over the age of 60; and were unemployed, collecting disability, or retired. Most cases involved dogs and cats; dead animals were found as well as live ones, and some needed medical treatment the hoarder wasn’t providing. Sometimes the person had other issues in addition to hoarding animals.

According to Patronek, hoarders simply could not fathom the filth they lived in and how detrimental their behavior was to the very animals they claimed to love. They were adept at rationalizing their behavior by saying they loved animals, were afraid the animals would be euthanized, or believed no one else would take care of them. The hoarders thought of their situation as one big happy “family” and tried their best to keep it that way.

Since there haven’t been studies on animal hoarders, per se, the reasons people turn to hoarding is unclear. Until someone understands animal hoarding as a disorder in itself, it would seem treating it will be difficult and at best, hit or miss.

More information about animal hoarding is available by reading the report from The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium..." More