Over the past decade there has been more publicity regarding people who are dubbed, “hoarders.” There are animal hoarders as well as hoarders of all kinds of other objects, even garbage. There are now numerous television shows about hoarding such as, Confessions: Animal Hoarding on Animal Planet. But hoarding is not a new thing and it is a very serious problem.
The Daily Herald recently reported that the village of Vernon Hills is attempting to access a woman's home because neighbors have been complaining of cat odors coming from the house. In 2004, the woman had roughly 130 cats removed from her residence; more than half of those cats, tragically, had to be euthanized. Authorities now suspect the woman may have more than four of the allotted animals she is allowed to keep in her home.
As a humane investigator, I have investigated numerous cases of individuals who are considered hoarders. In all the hoarding cases I have dealt with, I can think of only one case in which the woman changed and stopped hoarding.
Most Hoarders Do Not Recover
Hoarding is a product of someone’s mental illness. According to The Humane Society of the United States' website, “There is a general consensus that animal hoarding is a symptom of psychological and neurological malfunctioning, which might involve dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that "there are 900 to 2,000 new cases every year in the United States, with a quarter million animals falling victim. Those 'collected' range in species from cats and dogs to reptiles, rodents, birds, exotics and even farm animals.”
The majority of animal hoarders do not recover.
Like any other mental illness, the person needs to have the desire to get better and in most cases, like the one in Vernon Hills, the hoarder is being forced to make changes because authorities tell them to.
Removing animals does not cure hoarding
The Humane Society of the United States website says "removing animals from hoarding situations can temporarily help solve the problem, but without long-term psychological intervention, animal hoarding has a nearly 100 percent recidivism rate." But the best way, should be different agencies and the family working together to treat the issue as a long-term project.
It is my hope that over time professionals in the field of mental illness will make breakthroughs in the treatment of hoarders through their research and studies of mental illness. But until then a dismal future awaits many animals in the hands of an animal hoarder.
How You Can Help
I will never forget a case I went on in unincorporated Gurnee with a woman in her late 20s who had dogs stacked up in cages in her garage living in urine and feces. All the animals were emaciated.
She saw nothing wrong with the way the dogs were living and was furious at us for accusing her of mistreating the dogs. No reasoning or discussion could get her to change her mind. Even though the majority of the animals were taken from her, I have no doubt she is hoarding again and animals are suffering because she hasn’t changed.
If you suspect someone is an animal hoarder, please contact your local animal control, police department or humane society. Animals may be suffering and your call could make a difference.