This week's column may not seem like much of a story for the outdoors page, but everyone needs to be aware of this problem. I spoke with the animal control officer the other day asking about animal kidnapping. He mentioned that although he thinks there may be a problem, he has no documentation for it. However, he has noticed an increasing problem with animal hoarding. Animal hoarding involves keeping more than the usual number of animals or pets without having the ability or means to take care of them properly.
Deliberate hoarding of animals can be characterized as a symptom of a mental disorder because the people are so attached to these animals and find it difficult to let them go. Animal hoarding can be related to addiction, dementia or focal delusion.
Now, I think that most people like to collect things of some sort. I am no exception, but the items I enjoy collecting are not live animals that require food and attention everyday. The things I collect are items that can be stored for years at a time and forgot about for a while. Collecting in reality is a benign hobby, not a pathological condition or situation.
The stereotype of an animal hoarder is that of a single, older woman living alone. However, in the past few years, research has found that people hoarding animals have no age, gender or social status. It has been observed in men and women of all ages, married as well as single, widowed, and in people in all types of occupations, professional, white collar and blue collar.
Most often, the hoarded animals are cats and dogs. However, reports have been documented that a wide range of just about all companion animals such as rabbits, hamsters, ferrets, guinea pigs and all sorts of farm animals have been victimized by hoarding.
The presence of too many animals anywhere is a danger to the animals and to the people involved. Animal waste is a vector for several diseases. The ammonia from urine also creates unhealthy conditions. I do not know of any state that has a legal definition for animal hoarding although some cities may have some limit on the number of animals or pets that can be kept in a house.
The animals rescued from the hoarders quite often must be cared for at the rescuer's expense. The cost of doing this can be discouraging for prosecuting hoarding cases.
These factors make it challenging to secure a conviction against an animal hoarder for animal cruelty. One such case was in Washington state when a 51-year-old woman was found guilty of 46 counts of animal neglect for having 119 living cats in her home.
The latest research indicates that more than 200,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding each year.
This abuse differs from animal cruelty because the perpetrators refuse to accept or recognize the cruelty they are doing to the animals. Animal hoarders really believe they are saving or rescuing them from being put to death. In reality, all they are doing is prolonging the suffering. Animal hoarding puts a tremendous burden on the already overburdened public animal shelters.
Now, what causes people to hoard animals is not fully understood. In reality, people who like animals, like me, must accept the fact that we have to give up some of them. Yet the ones we keep are like the ending of an old pet food commercial I have seen many times on television "All we add is love."