Sunday, September 6, 2009

Local animal hoarders represent relatively new field of study


DEARBORN — In the last four months, animal control officers have made some of the largest pet rescues in the city’s history.

From only three houses, authorities have removed more than 325 cats and dogs, alive and dead.

The rash of large-scale animal rescues began in June when 51 cats were found living in a west-side house. A little more than a month later, authorities happened upon the residence of Kenneth Lang Jr., who drew national media attention for the 105 live and 151 dead Chihuahuas living inside his filthy-on-the-interior but immaculate-on-the-exterior bungalow.

And on Aug. 25, animal control officers removed another 25 cats from a vacant house on Roosevelt that reportedly only was occupied by the former tenants, which included a 7-year-old girl, for about a month.

And yet despite living conditions that were unsanitary by any ordinary measure, officials said the pets’ owners seemingly were unfazed.

What gives?

A small, yet growing body of research on animal hoarding has begun to break down and analyze what makes such people tick. According to the Humane Society of the United States, animal hoarding is identified by an apparent need to have many animals, as well as many inanimate objects.

Hoarders generally live a clandestine lifestyle marked by a stark contrast between their public and private personas. They have a tendency to deny reality, often manifesting itself by insisting that ill animals are healthy or that overcrowded animals are comfortable. And they have a history of recidivism.

Attorney James Schmier, who is representing Lang on two counts of animal cruelty, attributes his client’s situation to a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which researchers believe to be a cause of animal hoarding. Schmier says Lang thought he was caring for the dogs and was incapable of seeing the neglect they endured.