Animal Hoarders: In Over Their Heads

For an animal rights activist, I guess I pretty much stink.  I don’t believe that animals should vote, like Peter Singer.  Interestingly, this newer (1989 – Peter Singer’s origination of the animal rights movement dates back to the 1970’s and a landmark book called Animal Liberation) essay discusses the rights of mentally-incapacitated humans vs. dogs, which Singer refers to as “irrational”.

I do not see Badger, who is currently lying on his side in the sun, as “irrational”.  I think he is a pretty smart dog.  Many people would not be smart or rational enough to do any number of things Badger has done to get his heart’s desire – in particular, the “chicken trick” and the amazing grilled-cheese sandwich leap of faith.

Oftentimes, animals are a lot more rational than people, which brings me to the sad, yet pervasive problem of people who establish animal rescues, but quickly get “in over their heads,” ending up with dozens, and even hundreds of animals living in cramped, unsanitary and sometimes deadly conditions.  I was planning on covering endangered avians this week, and I found that one of the most recent news stories was this one, about an exotic bird rescue that had to be raided near Baltimore.  Over 80 macaws, cockatiels and conures were rescued by Brian Wilson and his friends from a well-meaning breeder last weekend.  19 people showed up to help, and spent all night washing cages and getting the birds ready to move to Wilson’s safe rescue.

BrianbirdrescuerThis is Mr. Wilson and his clean, safe rescue area.  He and friends are seeking to get the birds adopted to safe homes as soon as possible.

On a common basis, we know this problem as “crazy cat lady” and “nutty dog guy”.  I first heard “in over their heads” at the bi-annual Pet Adoption fair at the La Brea tar pits.

A cat rescue branched out into trying to help and adopt over 200 dogs that were kept in horrible conditions by an “animal hoarder” in Lancaster.  Meredith thought one of the dogs was cute, and was thinking about adopting it.  We took the dog for a walk and visited with him and the rescuers for quite a while.  They told about the type of conditions the animals had been found in, and explained the different behaviors of the “rescue” dogs, who were all coming around, but who all had many problems related to the horrible conditions in which they had been kept, from behavioral and psychological issues to serious illnesses.

This news article about a serial “cat hoarder” explains the phenomenon in common language. This lady had hoarded more than a hundred cats in two different locations, and was a two-time bail jumper on animal cruelty charges.  A tip led to her capture when she rented a motel room with 14 live cats and one dead one – in the freezer.  The stench coming from the room after only three days was what tipped off authorities.  Apparently, she had converted the motel bathroom into a giant litter box.  When finally caught, the senior citizen was found in a senior apartment complex nearby, living under an assumed name, that turned out to have been the name of a newspaper reporter killed in a car crash in Iraq in 2003.

Tell me this lady didn’t know she was doing anything wrong.  She was so committed to her hoarding habit that even at an older age, she was behaving like a bank robber, identity thief, or serial conman.

This NPR article also covers the Lancaster dog hoarding case.  The article says that the Humane Society reports that between 700 and 2,000 hoarding cases are reported every year.  Tufts University Veterinary Medicine department has a center dedicated to researching animal hoarding cases and working to prevent them.  According to the Center,

“Animal hoarding is not about animal sheltering, rescue or sanctuary, and should not be confused with these legitimate efforts to help animals.  It IS about satisfying a human need to accumulate animals and control them, and this need supercedes the needs of the animals involved.”

Animal hoarding, as it begins to be studied, is being linked to “object hoarding,” a phenomenon that is well-known, and linked to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.


This is a picture taken from the home (kitchen) of someone who was hoarding cats.

What can I, you – or we – do?  Increasingly, legitimate animal rescues, animal welfare authorities, law enforcement and veterinarians are becoming aware of the problem of hoarding.  They now understand that it will not “get better” on its own, and that it dooms the animals to either a horrible death with the hoarder, or often, the necessity for humane euthanasia, because the animals become so ill, starved and dehydrated, or develop understandable, extreme behavior problems due the conditions in which they have been kept.  These are not “feral” cats or dogs, so much as they are animals kept in torture-like conditions that are potentially deadly.  If that picture disgusts you, why should the cat or dog like it any better?  Sometimes the animals even cannibalize others that have been entrapped with them, and that die and are left in place by the hoarder (to whom I feel no sympathy whatsoever, even though I do feel sorry for “object hoarders” with OCD).  Trash can be hauled away and dumped.  Animals are living beings – not trash.

If you know of such a situation or potential situation, chances are much better today that a call to the authorities will provide a quick intervention than they were even a few years ago, when the excuses of the hoarder had a better effect, before all the facts were known.  That is really all that we can do, if we come across this terrible situation.

As to the young dog that Meredith and I considered taking in, we felt that it simply had too many problems for it to be feasable for us to bring it into our home.  We already have Badger, Mr. Hammy and the fish family, and that is plenty for us.


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