Friday, January 29, 2010

‘Those were my babies’ — animal hoarding is a complex psychological problem

By Michael P. McKinney

Cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, dogs and one 25-year-old turtle –– 49 animals in all carried from a heatless Pawtucket house.

Forty-three cats, some dead, found in a Providence house.

A house in East Providence with 250 birds, not all of them alive.

Removing animals en masse from houses and apartments has become part of the job for municipal animal-control workers. What’s at work when someone keeps scores of domestic animals in their home is hoarding. But despite the disturbing cases that animal-control officers sometimes encounter –– animals malnourished, sick, semi-feral or dead –– the hoarders often believe they are animal protectors, animal-control officials and researchers say.

Hoarding is recognized as a complicated problem and has spurred a specialty among psychologists and researchers around the country over the past decade. Some are rethinking whether animal- and object-hoarding share the same roots. And a work group at the American Psychiatric Association is exploring whether to make compulsive hoarding a separate diagnosis in the next edition of the diagnostic manual used by mental-health specialists.

“It’s something that is being recognized now as a serious situation,” said John Holmes, who has been Pawtucket’s animal-control officer for 35 years and has dealt with many animal hoarding situations. “It’s only been the last 10 or 12 years that we’ve been seeing more and more of these cases.”..." More