Paws for a Moment

Animal Hoarding: Loving Animals To Death

By Bonny Corbeil
St. John Tradewinds

Animal lovers are constantly searching for homes for the numerous abandoned and abused animals on St. John. Consequently, when we find people who are willing to take in animals, we are usually grateful beyond words. Our Animal Care Center regularly finds itself in this sometimes “hopeless position” of finding homes for homeless animals. However great that need, our ACC has the primary responsibility to ensure that all animals go into homes that put their welfare and care first.

People with good intentions who constantly take in or breed too many animals with a serious inability to properly care for them are called “animal hoarders.” This has been documented as a “deadly obsession” which takes its toll on the animals themselves.

One interesting case that I read online involved animal control officers and volunteers who entered a home where they found more than 300 cats, including more than 70 felines in various forms of decomposition. There was a smell of animal death, surfaces covered with inches of waste, garbage and animal feces everywhere.

“Animal hoarding” conjures up images of an eccentric “cat lady.” Despite the stereotype that collecting animals is simply a quirky behavior, recent research has pointed to a direct correlation between psychological problems and the tendency to hoard.

“Hoarding is very often a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder,” said Randall Lockwood, Research and Educational Outreach Vice President for the Humane Society of the United States. “For most hoarders, it is likely that their actions are the result of a true pathology, even though they are still usually able to function quite well in society.”

Animal hoarders can often appear to lead normal lives. It is important to recognize when a person’s fixation with animals has gotten out of control. The HSUS defines an animal hoarder as a person who has more animals than he or she can properly care for. Another defining characteristic is the hoarder’s denial of his inability to care for the animals and his failure to grasp the impact his neglect has on the animals, the household, and the human occupants of the dwelling.

Many hoarders have an uncanny ability to attract sympathy for themselves, no matter how abused their animals may be, which is often how hoarders manage to fool others into thinking the situation is under control. They truly believe that they are taking care of their animals, even though the facts of reality say otherwise!

“Very few hoarder cases simply involve good intentions gone awry, despite the insistence of the hoarder that he or she loves the animals and wants to save their lives,” said Lockwood. “It’s unbelievable how someone who reports to love animals so much can cause so much suffering.”

Perhaps because animals love humans in an unconditional manner, folks who do not feel loved by other people “hoard” animals to feel loved? For many involved in investigating animal cruelty and neglect, hoarding cases are among the most horrific they ever encounter.

“The amount of suffering in a hoarder case is more widespread and of a longer duration than most animal cruelty cases,” said Lockwood. “Although the case of a dog being violently killed is shocking, in a hoarder case the suffering can be felt by hundreds of animals for months and months on end.”

Indeed, hoarding can have serious repercussions for the animals involved.

“Hoarding can often amount to physical, medical and physiological neglect in the extreme,” says Lockwood.
The unsanitary conditions of the dwelling and lack of veterinary treatment and social interaction for animals all add up to serious neglect. The animals involved often endure a variety of ailments, such as malnutrition, parasitic infestation, infection, and disease. According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, many hoarder dwellings have been condemned as unfit for human habitation.

Community members can make sure hoarders get the help they need, while protecting animals at the same time, by notifying local police and/or animal control if they suspect someone is hoarding animals. Hopefully, our V.I. community will be moving forward in working with our V.I. Police Department and Mental Health workers to help people who both hoard and abuse animals. This “red flag” cannot be ignored if we truly care about our fellow human beings!

It’s vital that people work together to stop animal abuse. Good intentions toward animals is not enough. It really is possible to “love animals to death,” and it is our ACC’s responsibility to step in when this occurs. We are mandated by law in our role as “animal advocates” to speak for animals who are unable to speak for themselves.