Monday, August 9, 2010

Animal hoarders: beyond the cat lady cliché

by Julia Belluz

Last month, in a suburb of Stockholm, a woman was found living with 191 sickly cats in a home that smelled so strongly of urine, the eyes burned on entry and breathing was difficult. Closer to home, more than 40 dogs were seized recently from an excrement-filled house north of Winnipeg; in East Vancouver, 23 cats were rescued from an animal hoarder; and the Montreal Gazette reported last month on a Laval breeder who lived on a bus with 27 chow chows. “I’m not mentally ill,” he said. “I just live with a pack of dogs.”

But while hoarding tales have abounded lately—there’s even a new Animal Planet series, Confessions: Animal Hoarding—this compulsive behaviour has been around for nearly as long as the printed word (the earliest reference can be found in Dante Aligheri’s epic poem the Divine Comedy). It just wasn’t until recently that academic study began to shed light on hoarding, and why some people collect live cats and dogs like shoes or postcards.

Randy Frost, author of the new book Stuff: Compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things, has been a leader in the study of animal hoarding. He says the afflicted are on a mission to save the pets they “rescue”—even though their pets are usually discovered in ghastly, cramped conditions, and sometimes have to be put-down.

“We usually find that the condition of the home deteriorates,” he says, “so the human being is living like the animal.” But hoarders do not lack empathy for their pets. Rather, he says, “They develop some kind of delusion. They believe they have an ability to communicate with animals that no one else has and that regardless of the condition of the animals, [the animals] are better off with them than they would be with anyone else.”..." More

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