Saturday, March 27, 2010

Animals suffer unspeakable treatment at the hands of hoarders

by Isabel Sanchez

It’s not love.

At least 30 dogs were in chains, another 20 or so penned up or running loose, many starving, infected, injured.

“We were immediately besieged,” Heather Ferguson recalls of the day earlier this month when sheriff’s deputies, animal control officers and the animal cruelty task force were called to a remote area in Hidalgo County.

“We opened a can of dog food and dogs came flying out of the woodwork, jumping into our laps to get food. The puppies were the most desperate. They came out with their heads bowed down, whimpering.”

It’s not simple neglect, either.

What Ferguson, a cruelty investigator with Animal Protection of New Mexico, and others found inside the two trailers had the typical signs of animal hoarding: filth and feces everywhere, including on the bed where a 3-year-old slept.

“It was all over the child’s floor, there was dog urine everywhere. No working bathroom in either trailer, toilets were removed, tubs were filled with boxes and garbage. This was really a case that illustrates the link between animal abuse and child abuse.”

Animal control officers collected the dogs, and one told Ferguson, “The puppies couldn’t get into the truck fast enough.”

There were boxers, shepherd, terrier and Labrador crosses, a golden retriever, a chow. If a score of 1 means zero body fat, Ferguson says, many of the dogs were at 1 and 2, although some were all right.

They have since gone to various rescues and shelters around the state, including a half dozen at Animal Humane New Mexico, where two have been adopted, and one to the city’s Animal Welfare Department. They are awaiting new homes and second chances.

One dog had to be euthanized because of a badly broken leg, other injuries and infection.

The dogs and one injured cat belonged to a pair of sisters who acted as guardians for three children who lived with them. Authorities were alerted when one of the older kids ran away. “It was 28 degrees out that night,” Ferguson says. “She walked six-plus miles with no jacket.”

The children were taken in by family members. The guardian sisters, one or both, face animal cruelty charges.

In the previous hoarding cases Ferguson has seen, she says, children were not involved. “This is the first where you could see children and animals suffering horribly.”

A matter of control

Hoarding is more than love for animals gone overboard, or wellintentioned rescuers taking in more cats or dogs than they can handle. It’s more than lack of care.

“Animal hoarding is not about animal sheltering, rescue or sanctuary, and should not be confused with these legitimate efforts to help animals,” says the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium at Tufts University. “It is about satisfying a human need to accumulate animals and control them, and this need supersedes the needs of the animals involved.”

The researchers in the consortium have been taking animal hoarding seriously since 1997, a behavior that many in the public had dismissed merely as weird and crazy. Hoarding is a pathology, they say, and its depth is not completely understood.

An animal hoarder is defined by the consortium as someone who:
has more animals than can be provided for, even with minimal standards of care, obtained through overbreeding or by actively looking for unwanted animals;
fails to “acknowledge the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation and even death) and household environment (severe overcrowding, very unsanitary conditions)”; doesn’t recognize how hoarding affects his or her well-being, or the well-being of others.

Animal hoarding is distinct from object hoarding — inanimate objects don’t suffer, for one. And no matter how valued the items dominating the life of an object hoarder, they are unable to love the hoarder back. That distinction, researchers say, is a crucial one. The attachment to animals can be stronger than the attachment to family members.

“One of the most perplexing facets of animal hoarding is that in the face of professed love and desire to care for animals, there can be tremendous animal neglect and suffering,” says a research paper posted on the consortium’s Web site at www. “Invariably, an animal hoarder will ignore, minimize or deny adverse events as obvious as starvation, severe illness and death along with environmental effects of the hoarding, such as household destruction.”

Long-term intervention and therapy are recommended, with some caveats. It’s made difficult due to lack of research, the reluctance of animal hoarders to trust other people, the assumptions that the behavior is an obsessive compulsive disorder and can be treated as such.

Hiding the truth
The teen who ran away in the night led, intentionally or not, to the discovery of the animal hoarding case in Hidalgo County. The trailers, Ferguson says, are out of sight of any neighbors.

Hoarders typically need to stay hidden, she says. Rural areas provide the “cover of darkness” they seek, and this latest case marks animal hoarding’s presence in all four corners of the state.

“These cases are so difficult. We really need the public to be vigilant.”

Open your home

For information about the rescued dogs at Animal Humane New Mexico, call 255-5523. To view them, visit and click on “adoptable pets.” The names are: Darc Knight, Tooky Poo, Peter and Bella.

For information about the rescued chow mix at the city’s Animal Welfare Department east side shelter, call 311, ask for the shelter and give the dog’s ID number, A1584364. He’s called Jimmy.

Observe, report
To report suspected animal abuse, call your local sheriff’s office in rural areas, police in town or city, and/or the Animal Cruelty Taskforce hot line, 888-260-2178. In Albuquerque, call 311 and/or the task force...." Link