This is a difficult subject. It is an attempt to find the moment when a person who starts out as a cat rescuer crosses the wire to become a cat hoarder. There is quite an overlap between rescuing and hoarding. The former can merge into the latter.
There are clear cut cases of cat hoarding where the person started out as a cat rescuer. And there are clear cut cases of brilliant cat rescue on a large scale.
There are, though, many cases in the middle. Are these people rescuing or have they slipped into hoarding? Toxomplasmosis has been cited as a possible cause of cat hoarding. Mind you, toxoplasmosis has been blamed for a lot of things! Cat hoarding could sometimes be due to a combination of:
- love of animals;
- uncontrolled compassion and
- a need to satisfy a personal emotion that results in the inability to let go of anything – insecurity born out of loss e.g loss of a loved one.
- lack of practical skills.
- The best kind of cat rescue. A large number of cats are cared for as if each one was cared for individually in a nice home by a good cat guardian. Sustainable funding. Good food. Good access to veterinary care. Cats are neutered. Cats are generally healthy. Perhaps the classic large cat rescue organization that is at the top of the tree is The Cat House on the Kings. There are others. I can think of one in Brazil. There is no killing. They are, therefore, genuine rescue.
- Genuine desire to rescue cats. In general cats are well cared for. Rescuer is knowledgeable and does not hesitate to seek veterinarian advice. Cat numbers put stress on rescuer. Finance is on the edge. Slight lack of best practice management. For example, management of infectious diseases not ideal. Many cat professional shelters are actually in this bracket it seems to me. Cats are kept in cages and many are euthanised rather than rescued. Cats are stressed. Assessments as to cat character are sometimes dubious.
- Normally run by an individual who cares about cat welfare but who gets in over his/her head despite a desire to rescue cats. The motivation to rescue is blurred with e.g motivation to make a living out of cat rescue through donations or to satisfy an emotional need. Compassion combined with borderline practical skills and an impractical approach.
- Person not sure if he or she is a cat rescuer of simply can’t let cats fend for themselves². Little control over intake or placement. Little consideration as to how to fund the rescue operation. As a consequence there are cat health issues and people start to criticise. Things become a little disorganised. This person is a borderline cat rescuer. She/he is on the cusp of becoming a hoarder and will possibly end up being a hoarder. The person’s mentality is in question. Does the former Caboodle Ranch fit this position? It can be hard to tell because the truth is hard to find.
- We are now entering the zone of cat hoarding. I feel hoarding is about the mental state of the person doing the rescue. What is their motivation? How much in tune with reality and their own emotions are they? Are they able to see what they are doing objectively and assess the situation? It may be that the person is mentally stable and sensible but has simply lost control and might even regret it but can’t stop. When they finally are forced to stop and perhaps charged with animal cruelty they realise they have done wrong.
- At this level on the sliding scale it is just about the degree of mess, squalor, death, mayhem and fifth that the cats are living in, which the cat hoarder cannot see or does not wish to see. There are many examples. The mentality of the person is questionable. It is not really about cats or cat rescue but about the person’s mental condition. Even today the experts don’t really know what is going on in the mind of the true cat hoarder. The hoarding of cats is simply a symptom of the psychological condition of the person. If it wasn’t cats it would be something else. There are other forms of hoarding. Here is a classic example: Tiger Ranch Cat Sanctuary in Tarentum, Pa., owned and managed by Linda Bruno. She appears to have believed that is was a land of milk and tuna (both of which incidentally are not good for a cat in large doses!). The 29 acre ‘sanctuary’ was more like hell. She had taken in 7,000 cats in 18 months and rehomed 23. The smelly, filthy buildings on the estate were packed with cats, of which many were too sick to feed themselves. 107 dead cats were found. Thousands were believed to be buried. 391 were alive¹. This sort of hoarder is at least slightly delusional believing that other people don’t understand and they genuinely feel persecuted. The worst of it is that they end up hurting cats, doing the exact opposite to what was intended or declared to be the intention and the objective. The true hoarder does not see that simple fact. They are blind to what they are doing or in denial of it.
I want to say that Elisa Black-Taylor who managed her own modest cat rescue is not a cat hoarder. She is intelligent and aware of what she is doing and of the welfare of the cats. She admits to making some mistakes but she genuinely rescued cats from death row and despite the dearth of applicants to take on her cats, she managed to rehome a decent number. These cats were rescued. It could be said that people who criticise strongly have themselves emotional problems in relation to animal welfare.
If a cat’s life is saved and that cat is given even a few weeks love and care before dying surely you can say that he or she was rescued. Of course the target is to rescue and provide for the cat for the remainder of her natural life; the ideal. But rescue takes many forms.
2. High levels of compassion can lead to a person not being able to resist adopting a cat that needs help. It is uncontrolled, though, and possibly combined with some personal emotional need born out of a personal experience, perhaps the loss of a loved one.