Turning in a hoarder isn’t easy, but you will be saving lives.
There was a time, when the kids were home, we had two dogs, two cats, and a couple of birds. When we evacuated for Hurricane Floyd it took all three of our vehicles to transport them. Today, my husband and I have one cat, two dogs and one bird, and at this time in our lives, with our schedules – that is enough.
When I first began writing a pet column in the mid 1990s it required a weekly visit to the humane society. This made my husband nervous, because we both are “animal people.” On two occassions, he returned home and said; “This (dog/cat) wasn’t here when I left this morning.” This was in reaction to Luna, a golden retriever/chow mix, and Samantha our current feline in residence. I was well aware I couldn’t save them all – but I would do my little part.
I confess this because I know how easy it is to fall in love during every visit. I always believed that hoarders were folks with good intentions, who became overwhelmed.
Hoarders are now being recognized as individuals with mental health issues that can result in horrific consequences for the animals they are “helping,” and their own families.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are a quarter of a million animals who become victims to hoarders every year. Statistics show that hoarders are generally female, over 60 and live alone. They have an unusual number of “pets” without the financial means to house or care for them, and they deny this inability.
The process is a gradual one, starting with a pet or two, but then the numbers increase. Sometimes people bring animals to them, or they start picking up strays – to protect them – and soon there are too many to manage. The person will go without necessities for herself, and may even become reclusive, to try and provide for the animals. But animals are expensive to properly care for.
There is help for people who suffer from pet hoarding, but the first step is intervention. Pet hoarders will deny they have a problem. Many friends and family members worry about getting their friends and loved ones into legal trouble, but it is important to remember that the situation is inhumane for all involved and must be resolved. Animal hoarding cases do not have to end with criminal prosecution of the hoarder.
It is important is to get the animals out, to eliminate the possibility of the hoarder obtaining new animals, and to get long term help for the person suffering with the mental illness.
Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD and founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) says most pet hoarders fall into one of three categories:
Overwhelmed caregivers: They begin rescuing or helping animals in a small way and/or acquire pets passively but become overwhelmed by their growing pet population and inability to say no. People in this category tend to be the most willing to consider downsizing when offered help.
Rescuer hoarders: The people in this group are driven by an extreme sense of mission. Patronek says a profound fear of death and/or loss drives them. Caring for animals provides a strong sense of identity; losing the animals is a loss of who they are. When Animal Services finds this type of hoarder the first options are offering help and negotiated settlements. If the hoarder cannot or will not improve conditions for the animal, sometimes confiscation and prosecution become necessary.
Exploiter hoarders: These people may be true sociopaths. Exploiter hoarders lack empathy for people or animals. They are manipulative, cunning and can be vicious. Prosecuting them with every legal option is often the only path to saving the animals and a successful intervention.
If you know of a hoarder call your local animal control agency.