Monday, June 7, 2010

Crossing the Line From Compassion to Cruelty

By Kate Stover

Earlier this week, Stephanie Feldstein wrote about a couple who had been running a dog rescue in Florida. They were charged with 261 counts of animal cruelty; one for every dog they owned. Deputies rescuing the dogs could not enter the home without gas masks due to the smell.

In California, dozens of cats and dogs were found last week in a 32-foot long trailer. There was only one bowl of water, and feces littered the floor.

In Washington, over 75 animals, ranging from horses to a guinea pig, were removed from an unsafe home. Animal Services had been working with the owner to reduce the number of animals, but then progress stalled and the condition of the animals was going downhill fast.

These three stories aren't the only large-scale rescues that happened in the past week. This is the ugly face of animal hoarding, a complex problem that touches thousands of people and an estimated quarter-million animals a year. What sets these people apart from other pet owners? How does someone go from rescuing animals to hoarding them?

Animal hoarding is generally defined by three criteria:

1) The hoarder has more than the typical number of companion animals. This does not mean that everyone who has multiple pets is a hoarder. Many people who have lots of pets take excellent care of them, taking them to the vet regularly, giving them a healthy amount of food and water and ensuring safe and comfortable living conditions. The difference is in the next criterion.

2) The hoarder is unable to provide even minimum standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care. This, of course, often has devastating effects on the health of the animals, physically and mentally. Animals in hoarding situations are often underfed, unvaccinated, insect-ridden and highly undersocialized. It's important not to underestimate the effect on humans in the household as well; their health is also damaged by living among fleas, ticks and the waste of vast numbers of animals.

3) The hoarder denies his or her inability to provide decent conditions for the animals. Despite conditions that outsiders often can't bear for even a few minutes (think of the aforementioned rescuers in Florida with their gas masks), the hoarder denies the poor living conditions for both humans and animals, and denies that the home itself is in disrepair.

Animal hoarding is a tragic situation, and it is made even more so by the reasons for its existence.

Hoarders are not typical among those cruel to animals. They do not wish to cause pain or suffering. They consider themselves true animal lovers, and they genuinely do not grasp that they are keeping their pets in such harmful conditions. Hoarders are often heard to say that they wanted to rescue the animals they took home; to give them a better life that they'd have had in a shelter or on the streets. They're often resistant to giving up their animals because they believe that no one could take better care of them. Unlike most cases of animal cruelty, when it comes to animal hoarding, both the animals and the humans alike are victims..." More

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