WHEN MENTAL ILLNESS DISTORTS THE PERCEPTION OF LOVE
‘If it weren’t for your husband, you’d be the crazy cat lady’ – a comment I hear often.
The issue of Animal Hoarding is often made light of by the press, and jokes about the crazy cat lady do nothing to highlight these devastating situations. Animal Hoarding is no joke!
I have always been blessed to have animals in my life, and although I want every animal to find their loving home, I realize, I cannot bring ALL of them into MY home. At some point, the attention and interaction I can provide to each (individually) would become less with each new addition. I’m not a wealthy person. Having more pets also means more mouths to feed, grooming expenses if required, and an increased number of veterinarian visits (bills). I know that, if my love of animals became detrimental to me, or my companions, my entire family would stage an intervention.Would you know the signs of animal hoarding? Would you know what to do about it? Would you be one of many who do nothing?
Most of us are members of a family and visit friends and neighbours. Some, might be reluctant to report family, friends or neighbours or may find it difficult even, to seek help addressing the concern. Landlords may learn of a growing number of pets within a dwelling, and evict tenants to protect their property, but most fail to report their findings to authorities. In this instance, the hoarder relocates, along with the problem. Sadly, unless the odor becomes offensive or the noise excessive, most people don’t bother to report these horrific situations.
In this article, I hope to raise awareness regarding the issue and provide valuable resources.
Please share this information.
Although the case of a dog being violently killed is shocking, in animal hoarding cases the suffering can be felt by hundreds of animals for months and months on end,
Randall Lockwood, Ph.D.
Published in the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, Animal Hoarding: Structuring interdisciplinary responses to help people, animals, and communities at risk, Dr. Patronek, professor at Tufts University and his team list four key characteristics:
- Failure to provide minimal standards of sanitation, space, nutrition, and veterinary care for the animals
- Inability to recognize the effects of this failure on the welfare of the animals, human members of the household, and the environment
- Obsessive attempts to accumulate or maintain a collection of animals in the face of progressively deteriorating conditions
- Denial or minimization of problems and living conditions for people and animals
The mental and emotional state of an individual strongly contributes to animal hoarding. Although research continues, there is not currently an official diagnosis for this ‘condition’ listed in the diagnostic manual used by psychologists. Researchers suggest that Animal Hoarders are most-likely affected by Addiction, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Focal Delusional Disorder, Attachment Disorder, or a combination thereof.
In the (previously mentioned) publication, three types of animal hoarders are discussed.
The Overwhelmed Caregiver
These hoarders initially provide adequate care for the animals that they have a strong attachment to; understand that a problem has gradually developed though they may minimize it; may be socially isolated; believe it is caused by some change in their circumstances; have fewer issues with authority figures and accepting intervention.
The Rescuer Hoarder
These hoarders develop a compulsion based on a strong need to rescue animals from possible death or euthanasia; actively acquired animals and believes they are the only ones who can adequately care for them, find it hard to refuse any new animals, may work within a network of animal welfare people; avoids authorities.
These hoarders acquire animals to serve their needs. They are indifferent to the harm caused to them. They deny the problem and reject authority figures or outside help. They also believe they know best and have an extreme need to control a situation. They may come across as charming, articulate, manipulative and cunning. They are skilled at presenting excuses and explanations for their circumstances. They are self-concerned and express no remorse or guilt. They acquire animals actively and plan to evade the law, will lie cheat and steal with no remorse to achieve their goals.
Just as hoarders might not fit into a specific category of mental illness, neither might they fall, exactly, into one of the categories. Instead, hoarders might exhibit characteristics from each.
In addition to those outlined above, there is another category of hoarder that crosses the line into another dark area – disreputable breeder-hoarder. Initially, these individuals breed animals to sell and quickly become overwhelmed with the requirements necessary to care for the ever growing volume of animals. They are oblivious to how circumstances affect the animals.
The ASPCA estimates 900 – 200 new cases of animal hoarding arises each year, resulting in 250,000 animal victims.
Animal hoarders are not able to rationalize the situation, and it escalates to the extreme. Unfortunately, it isn’t until conditions reach this extreme point that law enforcement officers can gather enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. Sadly, these officers are unable to access the premises until a tragedy occurs.
The cost and time required to rescue, provide veterinary care (often resulting in euthanasia), rehabilitate and socialize, feed and rehome these animals adds to the already limited budget of rescue organizations. Tax payer’s money goes towards assisted shelters and legal fees (court proceedings and hopefully incarceration).
Hope for the future:
A growing number of municipalities have bylaws limiting the number of pets within one household. Also, some local laws grant animal control officers and law enforcement officers the ability to intervene on behalf of the animals when appropriate.
Research has proven that animal hoarding will continue at a rate of 100% without thoughtful and respectful intervention. Effective treatment of the behavior of an individual is only one necessary aspect.
Please be vigilant. If you recognize the characteristics of a hoarder or learn of a situation, report it. Early intervention is the key to preventing further suffering of animals.