What Is an Animal Hoarder?
By Faith Maloney
Rescuers at Haven Acres
Experts tell us that animal hoarding is a mental health disorder related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Most hoarders are middle-aged or older women living alone. Often the animal of choice is the cat – it’s easier to keep cats indoors, out of the prying eyes of neighbors. Usually by the time others are alerted to a bad situation, there can be hundreds of cats crammed into a house or trailer.
Some animal hoarders start with the best of intentions. But gradually the animals lose their identities, becoming objects to be collected just as some eccentric people collect old magazines or tin foil or balls of string. Removing the animals is not enough; unless the perpetrators receive professional help, they often just move to a new location and start up all over again.
Not everyone who ends up with too many animals is a hoarder. There is a big difference between a rescuer whose situation is getting out of control and an animal hoarder who is mentally ill and using animals to feed her compulsion. I have met numerous caring animal lovers who have rescued more animals than they can cope with at home and who have found themselves in trouble. They are not sick people.
Don’t take on more than you can handle
Take Karen, for example. She came across a large group of uncared for feral cats in a busy downtown area near where she works. It was her first major rescue operation. She and a friend trapped the cats, got them fixed and vaccinated, returned the adults to the colony, and set up daily feeding schedules. She kept the kittens at her home to tame them and make them ready for adoption. An excellent plan. Karen’s husband was supportive and since they both have excellent jobs, they could cope with the added financial burden.
But, somewhere along the line, things started to get out of hand. Karen brought in some adult cats who needed special care. One of them began spraying; then others decided this was a new fun thing to do. Karen’s husband began to see the investment they had made in a beautiful home going down the drain. Tensions were building between them.
They both realized that something needed to be done for the sake of their marriage as well as for the cats. They looked for solutions, starting with a cattery for the sprayer and his friends, and began to work with other animal groups in their area to help place some of the cats in new homes.
Karen was not in danger of going seriously over the edge, since she does not have the mental illness that led Doris down that dark path. But there is still a strong lesson to be learned for all of us about not taking on more than we can handle.
If you recognize yourself, a friend, or family member in any of this, then it’s time to stop and think and find some help. A slower, steady course of care, taking on what can be handled well, will help more in the end by preventing burnout and disasters. To really help the animals, we need to be healthy in mind and body.
As in all things in life, balance is essential.
Faith Maloney is one of the founders and former director of animal care at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.