Neighbours usually notice the smell first. An unfathomably wretched ammonia stench seeps into the floors and poisons the frame.
Most times, these homes can't be saved. Neither the people can be helped, nor the animals they collect and breed.
Long brushed off as eccentricity, hoarding behaviours are gaining a new recognition as a unique mental disorder characterized by an almost obsessive accumulation of animals, junk or incomprehensible collections. But when the objects collected are living pets, hoarding can lead to tragic consequences.
Elaine Birchall, an Ottawa-based social worker and hoarding specialist, once walked into a home to find two freezers accumulated with the bodies of 300 cats.
At this point, a hoarder has little hope for recovery.
"The prognosis is very poor. The animals and the people are quite ill by the time severe cases are found," she said.
A hoarder's appetite for objects and pets can be insatiable. It consumes homes, creates fire hazards and obstructs a happy life. Cat and dog populations in these conditions multiply uncontrollably, leading to incest, disease and squalor..." More