Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What is animal hoarding? Is it like hoarding lots of objects? Can people be cured?

Karen L. Cassiday, PhD

When most people hear about animal hoarding, they recall shocking news stories or imagine the “crazy cat lady.” They immediately side with the rescued animals, rarely considering the life of the hoarder or what led to this behavior.

The term "animal hoarding" refers to the compulsive need to collect and own animals for the sake of caring for them that results in accidental or unintentional neglect or abuse. Most hoarders of animals fall victim to their good intentions and end up emotionally overwhelmed, socially isolated, and ultimately alienated from family and friends. The problem causes immense suffering for both animals and people. It also creates great expense for local animal shelters and may require regional and national efforts to find homes for large numbers of animals.

A Growing Concern

No one really knows the number of animal hoarders, but reports in the media and to animal control and law enforcement agencies have increased five-fold in the past decade. Approximately 40 percent of object hoarders also hoard animals. Hundreds of thousands of animals are affected each year, and the Internet may make it easier for hoarders to engage in animal rescue. And like object hoarding, this problem is underreported and hidden because animal hoarders tend to come to the attention of mental health professionals and animal control authorities only when others complain..

Specific Problem Areas

Animal hoarders have problems with acquiring animals, handling and managing, and , getting rid of them. Compulsively reading animal-adoption websites, visiting shelters on euthanasia days, or searching alleys for stray animals can lead to acquiring too many pets. Frequently hoarders imagine all the wonderful ways in which they can save or rescue animals. They have every intention to care for their pets, but their difficulties with organization, attention, and focus make it easy for them to keep their living spaces very messy with animal waste and clutter; many have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Hoarders have a hard time letting go of their objects or animals because they have a terrible time making even simple decisions; for example, “Is this dog my favorite or should I adopt him out?” They also may have subtle memory problems and feel that they cannot trust their recall, so they keep things to preserve memories...

...The Numbers Speak

  • Every year 3,500 animal hoarders come to the attention of authorities.
  • At least 250,000 animals are affected each year.
  • Between 2 and 5 percent of the general population meets criteria for hoarding (both objects and animals).
  • Eighty percent of animal hoarders have diseased, dying, or dead animals on the premises.
  • Seventy percent of animal hoarders who come to the attention of authorities are females who are single, widowed, or divorced; although community-sampling studies find an equal ratio of males to females.
  • Up to 40 percent of object hoarders also hoard animals.
  • One hundred percent of hoarders relapse without treatment.

See Dr. Cassiday on Confessions: Animal Hoarding on Animal Planet (check local listings)

Karen L. Cassiday, PhD, is Clinical Director and Owner, Anxiety & Agoraphobia Treatment Center in Northbrook, Illinois, and Clinical Assistant Professor, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Sciences" More

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