Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ALDF: Animal Hoarding Case Study: Vikki Kittles

Vikki Rene Kittles, also known as Susan Dietrich, Rene Depenbrock, and Lynn Zellan, has a history of animal hoardingthat goes back decades and spans the United States from the Southeast to the Northwest. She has effectively evaded prosecution and conviction on many occasions by so thoroughly frustrating authorities that they are eager to dismiss her case in exchange for her leaving the jurisdiction. In at least one county, exasperated authorities even gave Kittles money for a tank of gas to leave the jurisdiction.

In 1993, after being run out of several states, serial animal hoarder Vikki Kittles was keeping 116 dogs, all sick and some dying, in an old school bus in Oregon, where District Attorney Joshua Marquis and the Animal Legal Defense Fund were determined not to let her get away again.

Vikki Kittles is representative of exploitive hoarders, as defined by the
Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC):

  • Most difficult or problematic type to deal with
  • Acquires animals purely to serve own needs
  • Tends to have sociopathic characteristics and/or personality disorder
  • Lacks empathy for people or animals; indifferent to the harm caused to animals or people
  • Tends toward extreme denial of the situation
  • Rejects authority or any outsider’s legitimate concern over animal care
  • Believes his/her knowledge is superior to all others’; adopts the role of expert with extreme need to control
  • Has superficial charm and charisma – very articulate, skilled in crafting excuses and explanations, and capable of presenting an appearance that conveys believability and competence to officials, the public, and the media
  • Is manipulative and cunning
  • Is self-concerned and narcissistic
  • Lacks guilt, remorse or social conscience
  • Acquires animals actively rather than passively
  • Demonstrates predatory behavior – will lie, cheat, steal without remorse and potentially has a plan to use these tools to achieve own ends
  • Plans to evade the law and beat the system
Kittles has been particularly exceptional in her ability to manipulate good Samaritans, unsuspecting veterinarians, and the legal system.

To read about laws and legal issues involved with animal neglect and hoarding, see ALDF’s
Animal Neglect Facts and Animal Hoarding Facts.

Florida, Mississippi, Colorado, Washington

1985 – In Broward County, Florida, Vikki Kittles’ neighbors had complained of stench and noise coming from animals at her house. She was charged with aggravated assault for pointing a gun at a neighbor whom she accused of harboring her missing dog. When neighbors gave a sworn statement that they had seen Kittles punch one dog and throw another against a wall, authorities went to the home and discovered 35 dogs, three cats and two horses living inside the home with Kittles and her 73-year-old mother, Jean Sullivan. Kittles explained the horses were inside to prevent them from being poisoned by the enemy. She was charged with cruelty to animals and violation of a local ordinance for keeping horses in a residential area. She fled before the trial, leaving in a trailer with the animals and her mother..." More

ALDF: Animal Neglect Facts

Animal neglect is the failure to provide basic care required for an animal to thrive. At first glance, such cases may seem less egregious than a single, brutal act of violent abuse, but severe neglect can mean extended periods of extreme suffering resulting in permanent injury or death. A single large-scale neglect case can affect hundreds of animals, as in cases of hoarding, puppy mills and farm neglect.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund maintains a database of criminal animal cruelty cases in the U.S. reported to our organization. In the last ten years, over 30% of cases that we have tracked involve animal neglect.Issues common to neglect cases:

-Animal neglect is often associated with human neglect involving a child, elder or other dependent.

-Handling all of the animals involved in large-scale neglect cases (hoarding, puppy mills and farm neglect) requires considerable effort and expense – all animal victims must be examined, treated, catalogued as evidence and sheltered during the pendency of a court case.

State Law
Most states’ criminal animal cruelty statutes define a minimum standard of care which requires that an animal caretaker provide water, food, shelter and veterinary care. Animal abandonment may also be specifically addressed in some statutes. However, by definition, some animals – such as farmed animals, fish or wildlife – may be excluded from anti-cruelty statutes, and some actors – such as farmers engaged in common husbandry practices, veterinarians practicing medicine or research facilities engaged in experiments – may be exempted from the statutes. To read your state’s laws on animal neglect, see Animal Protection Laws of the United States of America & Canada. Legal advocates and prosecutors seeking advice on strategies for the successful prosecution of animal abuse cases can refer to ALDF’s Legal Advocates' Manual for Animal Abuse Criminal Cases.

Some state statutes also contain provisions separate from the animal cruelty statutes to address care requirements for breeding facilities. (These may be in the agriculture section of the code.)

Violations of state animal neglect laws are almost always misdemeanor-level violations. Washington and California have felony-level provisions for extreme animal neglect. In a state with only misdemeanor provisions for neglect, a diligent prosecutor can sometimes find an opportunity to charge a suspect with a felony, such as incidents involving large-scale property destruction. However, this back-door approach highlights the need for improved state laws that allow for felony charges in cases of extreme animal neglect. ALDF’s report on Confronting Animal Neglect in America: Current Law and Future Possibilities analyzes shortcomings in neglect laws and suggests statutory language to confront the problem of animal neglect.

Some state laws have provisions for pre-conviction forfeiture, cost of care bonds or liens, which can expedite permanent placement for the animals and allay the sheltering expenses for the care of seized animals. To read about options for prosecutors seeking to gain legal custody of abused animals in states without pre-conviction forfeiture provisions, see “Solutions to Long-Term Cases in States Without Pre-conviction Forfeiture Provision”.

Another way to expedite permanent placement for neglected animals is to use statutory provisions that allow a private citizen or organization to file a civil suit for an injunction against an accused animal abuser, thereby allowing the Court to terminate the defendant’s interest in the animals. ALDF successfully used such a provision in North Carolina law in ALDF v. Woodley. Other states could easily adopt similar laws, using ALDF’s Model Animal Protection Laws Collection, which includes statutory language for civil injunctive relief for criminal violations.

Animal hoarders present challenges to the justice system beyond other types of neglect because the hoarder may be mentally ill. Furthermore, hoarders have a very high rate of recidivism. To stop the repeating cycle of abuse, sentencing orders should include psychological counseling and a prohibition on possession of animals. While these sentencing options are generally available to judges even where specific statutory language is lacking, adding them as mandatory provisions in each state’s anti-cruelty laws would result in such sentencing orders becoming routine. Currently, only Illinois defines “animal hoarder” in their animal protection statutes and specifically requires convicted hoarders to get a psychological evaluation and treatment.

If a hoarder is deemed incompetent to stand trial, his or her animals may be in a legal limbo. In 2006, ALDF won an historic legal case involving termination of an unfit guardian’s interests. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that where a defendant has been found incompetent, a Court can appoint a trustee, such as a humane society, to determine what disposition is in the best interest of the animals. Ideally, in any case that results in a suspended prosecution or deferral, the Court should consider and provide for the best interest of the animals involved prior to dismissing the case.

County/City Ordinances
Animal-related ordinances at the county or city level are generally designed with the goal of protecting public safety and public health, although some provisions may be used to prevent the neglect of animals:

-Municipalities may prohibit tethering of dogs or may limit tethering by the type or length of the tether or by the amount of time the animal is tethered. (A handful of state laws restrict tethering.)
See a summary of anti-chaining laws.

-Municipalities may limit the number of animals a person can possess in the jurisdiction. Although primarily aimed at preventing public nuisances, such laws may also give local authorities a tool to prevent hoarding and puppy mill situations.

Federal Law
The Animal Welfare Act (AWA), 7 USC §2131 - §2159, requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. The Act provides guidelines for housing, enclosures, exercise, feeding, watering, sanitation and handling, but it does not regulate the type of experiments that can be performed on animals. The Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Violators may be subject to criminal and/or civil penalties or may have their licenses revoked.

The Act limits the types of animals it protects. It defines “Animal” as a “warm-blooded animal, which is being used, or is intended for use for research, teaching, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet.” Notably, however, the following animals are excluded from the Act: birds, rats, mice, reptiles and farmed animals – these animals account for over 95% of the animals used for research and raised for food in the United States.

Facilities covered by the Act include: research laboratories, dealers (breeders and brokers), exhibitors (zoos and circuses) and transporters. Facilities that are exempt include: retail pet stores, direct sellers, hobby breeders, public pounds, private shelters, private collections, livestock shows, pet shows, rodeos and any facility using nonregulated species.

The federal Twenty-Eight Hour Law, 49 USC §80502, addresses neglect of animals being transported across state lines by requiring that transporters “may not confine animals in a vehicle or vessel for more than 28 consecutive hours without unloading the animals for feeding, water, and rest.”. Violators may be subject to a civil penalty.

The website for the Animal Legal and Historical Center has more information on the AWA, the Twenty-Eight Hour Law and other animal-related laws.ALDF ResourcesALDF offers several resources to assist in investigating and prosecuting animal neglect crimes and to strengthen animal protection laws:

Animal Protection Laws of the United States of America & Canada is a compendium of state laws that highlights several topics, including counseling requirements and cross-reporting requirements, in quick reference tables and full-text statutory sections.

Confronting Animal Neglect in America: Current Law and Future Possibilities is a 2007 report reviewing the status of the laws of each state by chronicling both their statutes and case law as they relate to animal neglect. The report then makes recommendations of statutory options that have the potential for reducing the tragic incidence of neglect in the future, including language for felony provisions, sentencing requirements and termination of an unfit guardian’s interests.

Solutions to Long-Term Cases in States Without Pre-conviction Forfeiture Provision outlines options for prosecutors to secure custody of abused animals in states without pre-conviction forfeiture provisions.

Model Animal Protection Laws Collection provides statutory language you can use to improve your state animal protection laws.

The Legal Advocates' Manual for Animal Abuse Criminal Cases is a guide to assist animal advocates and prosecutors with procedures and strategies for the successful prosecution of animal abuse cases, including advice specific to hoarding, puppy mill, and farmed animal abuse cases.

ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program provides free legal services to prosecutors and investigators who are handling animal cruelty cases and to legislators who are working to improve animal protection laws.

Sample foster care application and agreement forms can be downloaded for use by shelters caring for large numbers of animals seized by law enforcement.

Animal Hoarding Facts provides basic information about animal hoarding and what can be done to stop it.

Issues in Animal Neglect Cases is an article discussing the seizure of animals when investigators serve a search warrant for animal neglect.

Robert and Rebecca Collier – IndianaRepresented by ALDF, the United States Equine Rescue League (USERL) filed a complaint in Indiana against Robert and Rebecca Collier for the cost for caring for eight severely neglected horses. ALDF is also assisting USERL in fighting a court order in Collier's cruelty case, which stated that the horses must be returned to Collier.

Michael, Judy and Gayle Keating – North Carolina The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against three North Carolina residents for severely neglecting eight horses whom they starved – in one case, literally to death – and deprived of all veterinary care.

Janie Conyers – North Carolina A dog breeder was keeping over 100 dogs and some birds in horrendous, filthy conditions with untreated, severe medical problems. ALDF filed a civil lawsuit resulting in a settlement that prohibited Conyers from ever owning another animal.

Vikki Rene Kittles – Oregon, Wyoming, Florida, Mississippi, Colorado, Washington After being run out of several states, serial animal hoarder Vikki Kittles was keeping 116 dogs, all sick and some dying, in an old school bus in Oregon, where District Attorney Joshua Marquis and ALDF were determined not to let her get away again.

Jean Marie Primrose – Oregon This case involved neglected cats who were left in legal limbo after their guardian was judged incompetent for trial. ALDF won a landmark court decision regarding termination of an unfit guardian’s interests.

Barbara and Robert Woodley – North Carolina To rescue hundreds of dogs from abuse and neglect at the Woodleys’ breeding facility, ALDF used a unique provision in North Carolina law to win a permanent injunction against the Woodleys, thereby gaining custody of their 325 neglected dogs, in the largest civil animal cruelty case in history.

Vernon and Katonya Zawistowski – Washington In this case, the defendants were convicted of neglecting two malnourished horses. An appeals court opinion found that the horses suffered pain due to the defendants’ failure to provide adequate food.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adams County dog hoarding case grows


There are not enough words to describe the filth and unsanitary conditions more than 64 dogs have been living in under the care of a West Union family, Adams County officials said on Tuesday.

Beginning Monday, officials seized more than four dozen dogs belonging to the Nixon family; Tuesday it got worse, officials said.

About 3 p.m., Tuesday, members of County Animal Removal Team made a heartbreaking discovery at the property of Joyce and Evelyn Nixon in Lynx, Ohio.

"We found a dog house, it is almost covered to the roof with whatever excrement and filth there is in the dog pen; there are puppies inside," said Paul Hughes, Adams County dog warden.

In boxes stored at mobile homes on the site, Hughes said he found the remains of deceased dogs and puppies since the removal operations began on Monday; Tuesday there was life.

"We heard them crying; they are alive," Hughes said, eager to get the dog house dug out so rescuers could get to the puppies.

The dog house was nearly four feet deep in waste, he said.

At last count there were 65 to 70 dogs which had been removed from the property; many have been taken to a safe location for evaluation and care, Hughes said.

"I have never seen anything this bad. It is awful. We were just getting ready to move more of the dogs when we heard them," Hughes said.

On Monday, Joyce Nixon told reporters she had been ill and lost her job, which allowed the situation at the property there and at 519 East Main Street in West Union to get out of control.

Her intention was to develop a safe shelter for homeless dogs, but her program had not received a nonprofit status and she was unable to get funding for the project, Nixon said..." More

photo: Terry Prather/Staff

(photo of Joyce Nixon)

More than a 100 animals seized in Zebulon

Wake County Animal Control has seized over 100 dogs and cats that were living in unspeakable conditions after getting an anonymous tip.

The animals were taken from a mobile home on Rosinburg Road. Investigators say it was a case of animal hoarding.

"Worst conditions I've seen dogs and cats living in," said Michael Williams with Wake County Animal Control.

Williams said the animals were kept with trash and junk cars on the property.

"Most everything was outside. There was not a habitable building on the property," said Williams. "The area was pretty widespread. We had some animals in different sections. We had some that were loose and some that were in cages."

After hours of searching, Williams said they found 108 animals still alive. He called it the largest case of animal cruelty in Wake County history.

"Such poor conditions for the animals that were there - as well as the living conditions for the people as well," he said.

64 cats and 44 dogs were living in filth.

"We found several dead animals as well in containers," said Williams.

The animals belonged to Mary and Johnny Morton, a Zebulon couple, who Williams said were likely hoarders.

"The owners surrendered all the animals too us," he said. "The animals were either absolutely terrified and had never been socialized with a person. Some had some pretty serious medical conditions."

Only a few were able to be saved...." More & video

Monday, March 29, 2010

Interview with Randy Frost, Part I Compulsive Hoarding Disorder Definition and Causes

By Sere Halverson
Editor’s Note: We recently sat down with Randy Frost to discuss compulsive hoarding disorder – a fascinating and complex problem that affects from 2.5 to 5 percent of the population, many who are elderly.

Randy has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a professor of psychology at Smith College. He is one of the leading authorities on compulsive hoarding disorder. He has co-authored two books, a self-help book entitled Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding, and a therapist manual entitled Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Therapist Guide and Workbook. Randy has been featured on The Dr. Oz Show, NPR and ABC News and has been interviewed for articles for numerous publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Newsweek.

Randy had so much valuable information about the causes and characteristics of hoarding, and how best to try to help a loved one with a hoarding problem, that we’ve divided this interview into several parts that we’ll post throughout the coming weeks. Keep checking back for more.

icarevillage: Randy, will you explain to our readers what compulsive hoarding disorder is?

Randy: Compulsive hoarding is the acquisition of and the failure to discard a large number of possessions. Many of us engage in this type of behavior to some extent. We all collect things, we all have a lot more possessions than we probably need. But there are two important distinctions that point to a disorder rather than the more common behavior of collecting.

First, the accumulation is so vast that it clutters living spaces and makes them unusable. For instance, you can’t sit on the couch because it’s full of stuff, as is the kitchen sink, the kitchen table, the bathtub, and so on.

The other component is the level of distress and impairment the hoarding causes. While the person usually enjoys the act of collecting, the distress occurs when they worry about someone seeing the home, or become anxious about having to get rid of any possessions.

The hoarding causes significant impairment. It affects their ability to handle financial affairs, because when your home is filled with disorganized stuff, it’s easy to lose bills and important papers. The home is often unsafe because exits are blocked. There are fire hazards.

Appliances often stay broken. The person with a hoarding problem is afraid to have anyone into the house for repairs because the home’s condition may be reported to authorities. We’ve seen elderly people who have no working refrigerator, no working stove, sometimes no working hot water – sometimes no water at all, which means no working bathroom.

icarevillage: So we’re talking about much, much more than just a disorganized, messy house. Hoarding can become a serious problem that causes unfit living conditions and puts people in danger. Are the elderly more susceptible to compulsive hoarding?

Randy: We do see a lot of hoarding behavior in the elderly. But interestingly, when we ask older people how long they have been hoarding and how long their home has been like this, most of them tell us it’s been going on all their lives.

So we’re not sure if there is a separate kind of phenomenon of hoarding that begins in old age. Most of the research on the onset of hoarding suggests that the behavior itself starts sometime around age 12 or 13, but doesn’t become a problem for several decades after that.

One of the reasons why hoarding in the elderly may be so much more apparent to us is that while the hoarding behavior may have always been present, when people get older they lose some of their ability to cognitively process things. They lose some of their resources for handling things, they move more slowly, and so forth. So aging increases the severity of the behavior. But we suspect that the hoarding behavior probably was there most of their lives. And we’ve seen people who are as young as 19 with serious hoarding problems, so it’s definitely not limited to the elderly.

icarevillage: Do you know what causes hoarding?

Randy: We think that people who hoard process information in several unusual ways. A person with a hoarding problem pays attention to the unique detail in objects, such as the shape, the color, the texture, and so forth. For example, take a bottle cap. They might focus on these details and give it value rather than focusing on the fact that it’s a bottle cap without a bottle and therefore has no useful function.

Another feature of information processing that differs in the person that hoards has to do with the amount of information they pay attention to with respect to an object. So they will look at an object and focus on all its unusual details and those details will have meaning. When that person tries to make a decision about that object, they’re faced with many more details to consider than most of us are. Therefore, making any kind of decision requires taking a large amount of information and filtering it down and using it to come to a conclusion – and this is very difficult for them. It affects everything they do, from ordering off a menu to choosing what to wear in the morning. These are decisions they sometimes struggle with for long periods of time.

The other characteristic of people who hoard has to do with the way in which they organize their lives. Most of us organize our lives categorically. We get an electricity bill, we put it the category called bills, and when we need to find it we can go to that location. But people who hoard seem for the most part to organize visually and spatially instead. So if you ask them where their last electricity bill is, they’re likely to tell you that it is halfway down in the middle of the pile in this room, because that’s where they saw it last. Their organization occurs by remembering where objects are in space.

Now, a lot of us organize some things this way. My desk is organized like this – I have piles of things and I remember what’s there because I last saw it there. But if I were to do that for all my possessions, that system would break down quickly..." More

Professor's exploration of hoarding garners attention

By: Clare Lynch

Almost two decades ago, psychology professor Randy Frost's involvement with hoarding began with an inauspicious question posed in a seminar on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"One of the students asked about hoarding, and I said I didn't know anything about it, and nobody else did either, because you don't see it often," Frost said. "We decided to see if we could find someone who had this problem who would be willing to be interviewed for the project. So we put an ad in the newspaper looking for pack rats or chronic savers, and we got a hundred telephone calls."

Frost's research has advanced rapidly since 1991. He is now a nationally known expert on compulsive hoarding behavior. His book on hoarding, Stuff, co-written with Gail Steketee, will be published in April.

Hoarding itself has garnered a similar increase in attention, progressing from a little-known subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder to a field in its own right.

Compulsive hoarding behavior has three components, Frost explained. Hoarders first have problems with over-acquisition through compulsive buying or collecting of free objects. They then become so attached to those objects that they are unable to let them go. Finally, hoarders have a problem organizing their belongings..."

Hoarding Intervention Interview

In this hoarding intervention interview, you will read expert advice about hoarding disorder, when it's time to step in to help a loved one and how to perform a successful intervention. Dr. Simon Rego is a licensed clinical psychologist, and board-certified in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology, which is evidence-based treatment of choice for hoarding. As Director of Clinical Training at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, he has treated many hoarders.

Hoarding Intervention Interview with Dr. Simon Rego

LTK: How does a loved one know when hoarding has become a problem and an intervention needs to take place?

Dr. Simon Rego (SR): While we all have the tendency to acquire and save things at times, hoarding is typically only considered to be a clinical problem after it becomes “compulsive”. By compulsive, we mean that the acquiring and then failing to discard possessions turns into a repetitive behavior that the person feels driven to perform, despite the fact that the items may be of limited value. The compulsive behavior also causes extremely negative consequences (e.g., rooms so cluttered that they cannot be used as intended), and/or significant distress or impairment in the person’s ability to function. A quick way to determine whether the hoarding has reached clinical levels is to check to see if rooms/objects cannot be used as intended. If the person can no longer function at home, work, school or socially due to his/her hoarding, or if any interference in their compulsion to hoard (e.g., family members throwing out items) causes him/her to get very upset.

LTK: What is the first step when trying to help someone with a hoarding disorder?

SR: If you are a concerned friend or family member and can find a treatment provider trained to treat compulsive hoarding, you may actually have some success in getting the person in the door to get some help. Compulsive hoarders may lose motivation quickly once they realize the treatment will focus on having them “debulk” or eliminate a large percentage of the items that they have acquired. They may also be initially hesitant if they previously have had unsuccessful treatment or if family members have tried to eliminate their items without consent in the past. They may also defend their behavior as not that much different as anyone else’s collecting of things or come up with reasons why they find it important to keep their materials.

LTK: How does an intervention for hoarding work?

SR: The treatment of choice for compulsive hoarding is something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based treatment that has patients examine and challenge their problematic beliefs and also identify and change any problematic behavioral patterns. In the case of compulsive hoarding, the treatment targets the thoughts that lead to the excessive acquisition of materials of limited value (e.g., “This soap is on sale! It is such a good deal that I should buy a crate!”), the saving of these materials (e.g., “I bet Aunt Joan will be able to use this!”), and the way the person tries to organize these materials (e.g., “I’m not sure where it should go.”). The treatment then targets the avoidance behaviors that compulsive hoarders usually engage in, usually in response to the distress caused by their dysfunctional beliefs. For example, compulsive hoarders may avoid storing an object out of sight because they believe they will lose the memory the item generates.

Treatment has patients gradually and intentionally confront these beliefs using something called exposure and response prevention. For example, this may involve sorting items into categories and ranking them in terms of how anxiety provoking it would be to discard them, and then selecting an item that provokes less anxiety (at first) and then discarding it. In the process, negative thoughts become challenged and corrected, and a tolerance to anxiety can be built. Over time, if this is done in a structured, prolonged, and repetitive manner, it gets increasingly easier for compulsive hoarders to debulk materials from their home (i.e., momentum builds).

LTK: Do you always need a professional, such as a counselor, involved in an intervention?

SR: Some people on the less severe end of the spectrum may be quite successful doing the work on their own. Other people may do well using a good self-help book. Still others correct the issue with the help of family members or friends, or by hiring a de-cluttering service. It is when the hoarding has reached clinical levels (e.g., rooms cannot be used as intended or the person cannot function in other areas of his or her life or becomes very distressed when unable to/prevented from hoarding) that professional assistance becomes essential. One other thing to consider, however, is how long the issue has been a problem, and if it seems to be growing worse (i.e., rooms can still be used, but are getting very cluttered). In this case, it may be wise to act in advance of the problem getting bigger and reach out for professional assistance from someone with expertise in treating this problem.

LTK: What are some common mistakes loved ones make when trying to help a loved one with hoarding disorder?

SR: The first mistake that loved ones make with compulsive hoarders is to assume that it is not a psychological disorder. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the person with the problem simply has to “push” him or herself in order to change. As with any other psychological condition, this attitude is very unhelpful and can often make the compulsive hoarder feel alienated and more resistant to change!

Another common mistake loved ones make is trying to “help” by throwing out materials themselves – either with or without the consent of the compulsive hoarder. They may even hire a cleaning service to remove all of the materials if their patience runs thin! This is unhelpful, as it often causes the compulsive hoarder to experience great distress (which can impact relationships), and ultimately, unless the person is successfully treated, he or she will likely start to acquire and save again over time.

And yet another mistake loved ones make is to not address the problem at all! Either by ignoring it, limiting it to certain areas that they are willing to “live” with, or writing it off as part of the person’s “quirkiness” – in order to not upset him/her. Although this may “help” the person in the short-term, it only allows the problematic behaviors and thoughts to grow over time..." More

Hoarders growing in prevalence


A Palm Bay man arrested after police found 100 dead snakes in his home does not fit the profile of the typical pet hoarder.

Barry Walter, 43, faces 122 counts of animal cruelty, charges stemming from when a cleaning crew stumbled upon plastic storage containers of abandoned snakes in addition to extensive collections of comic books, Star Wars memorabilia and GI Joe action figures.

Such stories are becoming more common, and animal hoarding is -- for the first time -- being extensively studied by those in the medical field..."

Not Rare

Brevard County Animal Services Officer Brian Figueroa said pet hoarding is more prevalent than people think.

"You never know what someone has in their house," Figueroa said. "It's very common and unfortunate that people don't understand the reality of it. They (hoarders) feel as if they have to have these things. Mentally, they need it, no matter how ridiculous it may seem."

Figueroa said the 17 rescued snakes are in good hands, though he is not certain what their outcomes will be.

"They are with an expert snake handler, and he will foster them, taking care of them for us. He is evaluating them and letting us know what the situation is," Figueroa said.

The fact that Walter is male and was hoarding reptiles makes him different from the typical animal stasher. According to research by Tufts University, 76 percent of pet hoarders are women, usually single, divorced or widowed and living alone -- except for the numerous animals, typically cats...."

More & video