By Jennifer Scarlett
Animal hoarding used to lurk in the shadows, either unseen or lampooned—the domain of “crazy cat ladies” and recluses. I suppose it’s to the credit of the many reality TV shows and YouTube clips that hoarding is no longer a secret. Still, the stigma remains. Animal Planet’s show about it is called “Confessions,” as if hoarding were merely a moral failing. Or entertainment. Most people read about or watch animal hoarders with a mixture of disgust, anger, and simple incomprehension.
Let’s try to sort those out. I’ve just returned from a conference where Dr. Gary Patronek, a veterinary professor and expert on hoarding, led us through some recent research. The next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the bible of mental-health diagnoses, could list “hoarding disorder” for the first time (without confining it to animal hoarding). Assigning a DSM code to a disorder allows for third-party payment for treatment—i.e., psychiatric help. It also shapes the way therapists and the general public define behavior as normal and abnormal. Check out the website of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) and you’ll see that therapy—and legal action—is sorely needed.
Here’s a slide Patronek presented that shows how the disorder develops. Though we trivialize the problem when we dismiss hoarders as “crazy cat ladies”—for that matter, hoarders come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes stockpile all kinds of animals, and often present a very normal front to the world—there’s a grain of truth to the female part. More animal hoarders are women. This slide suggests how women may be overrepresented because of a greater risk of childhood trauma, marginalization, and loneliness..." More