Animal hoarding has become a more common theme in the news in recent years, and often it appears that by the time the police are able to investigate, many animals are dead or dying, and most, if not all, are sick. Animal hoarders are often charged with animal cruelty and their living animals confiscated, usually going to shelters and rescuers who try to nurse them back to health.
Earlier this month, police were called to the home of a couple in west suburban Berwyn, originally due to a fire in the backyard that was producing a bad odor, and about a girl at the house. However, they had to leave and come back twice more before they were allowed in the house. More than 60 cats were found, along with many other items such as furniture, and the house smelled strongly of cat urine and feces.
The couple, Photini Varkonyi and Eric Jandt, told the police that they knew their house was in terrible condition and were overwhelmed with the conditions, and that they knew things had gotten out of control.
Varkonyi was primarily responsible for bringing the cats home as she wanted to start a shelter for them out of the house. She ultimately told the police that so many cats was overwhelming for her and she became depressed and gave up.
Also earlier this month, 21 Persian cats were taken from the home of hoarders in north suburban Highland Park. The cats were badly neglected and suffered from malnutrition. It was Kelly Moyer, the founder of the Tails of Hope animal rescue group in Gurnee, who contacted the authorities after visiting the home of Jorjic and Agnes Badalpour.
The cats were living in the garage, and the couple contacted the rescue group after realizing that the smell and condition of the garage could hinder their ability to sell their home. The cats’ fur was matted, they had serious flea infestations and were badly underweight. Three of the cats died while being treated at animal hospitals in other villages.
These stories, along with television shows like “Hoarders,” are drawing awareness to the issue of hoarding, but what exactly is it? According to Hartford Hospital, compulsive hoarding is a problem that often accompanies other mental disorders, including depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia and certain anxiety disorders, among others. Hoarding is thought to be a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Animal hoarding is among the most tragic types of hoarding because the animals are so frequently neglected, sick, and even dying. The condition of the dwelling they’re found in is usually filthy, with feces and urine everywhere, which contributes to the poor condition of the animals.
In a letter published by the “Concord Monitor” on July 12, 2012, Barbara Bonsignore wrote that animal hoarding can be precipitated by a major life-changing event that causes people to turn to animals for comfort. They often take in animals with every intention of caring for them, but get to a point where they can no longer afford it or keep up. They also can’t willingly give up their animals. She makes a plea for help for these animals, and for interventions when people suspect someone of hoarding animals.
There is no cure for hoarding, however treatment includes cognitive therapy and medication; typically the same medications that are used to treat OCD. Cognitive therapy generally addresses the thoughts and feelings that cause the hoarding, and aims to change certain thought patterns and behaviors. However, nothing can happen without someone first intervening.
Hoarders have a serious psychological problem and need help. They don’t intend for their situations to get so out of control and they usually start with the best of intentions towards their animals. After they become overwhelmed, they find they can’t stop, and they often don’t know what to do, so things continue to deteriorate...." More