Friday, January 7, 2011

Animal hoarding: When pet owners lose control

A curious breed of pet owner starts out with one or two animals and ends up with dozens — even hundreds. This creates a nuisance for neighbors, a health hazard for animals and owners, and havoc for agencies that must swoop in for a rescue.

Last year, authorities in Tulare County charged a woman who owned 32 dogs and cats and whose home had 6 inches of cat feces under the kitchen table and cat carcasses in a freezer.

In August, authorities filed animal-cruelty charges against a woman near Strathmore who said she was running an "animal shelter" inside her home -- which contained 140 dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, a cockatoo, parakeets and a chinchilla....

..."It's a delusional disorder," said psychologist Randy Frost, co-author of "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things." Those who hoard animals "don't have the recognition that this is a problem. They let the animals take over the house. They begin to live under the animals' rules. The house gets filthy."

The phenomenon can involve any species -- most typically, cats are hoarded, but authorities find dogs, horses, goats, rabbits, birds and even tigers. The stench can be overpowering, and usually neighbors are the first to notice.

"There's an 'ugh' factor," said veterinarian Gary Patronek, vice president for animal welfare at the Animal Rescue League of Boston and a former Tufts University professor who has written academic articles about animal hoarding. Patronek said three or four cases come across his desk each day.

Animal hoarding in itself is not a crime, but when animal shelters get involved in rescuing scores of sick animals, taxpayers get stuck with the tab -- $20,000 per case is typical, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In Fresno and the county, the Central California SPCA provides animal-control services under contract and rescues animals in hoarding cases. It spent an estimated $19,000 removing and caring for cats in a recent case.

The American SPCA estimates that there are 2,000 to 3,000 cases annually across the country, involving thousands of animals and averaging 200 animals per incident..." More

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