We need to focus for a while on the perpetrators of cat hoarding as well as the victims. My primary focus is on the cats because I am interested in cat welfare. However, almost daily we encounter a story of cat hoarding in online news media. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that local authorities in the US deal with 3,500 animal hoarders annually and a quarter of a million animals are affected.
Clearly something needs to be done to try and stop this abuse of animals. I have never read in news stories or anywhere else online of cat hoarders receiving treatment for their mental health. If the focus is on the hoarder it is to do with punishment and the confiscation of their cats to a rescue facility. Rarely do we read of follow ups. It is almost certain that within a year of having her/his cats confiscated she is back to where she was before surrounded by a hoard of cats in filthy conditions.
The consensus is that cat hoarding is a mental health issue. It is similar to any other form of hoarding. It might have to be classified as a particular form of hoarding but the underlying mental health issues are similar. For example, up to 40% of ‘object hoarders’ also hoard animals.
And, critically, all cat hoarders relapse to their old ways without treatment.
Cat hoarders rarely seek treatment. Therefore they have to be either forced by court order or encouraged to do so by relatives. They have an inability to take decisions to improve their lives. The hoarder is firmly in a deep rut, engaged as they are in round the clock animal care which is failing disastrously.
My research indicates that the only current, effective treatment available is cognitive behaviour treatment (CBT). In a study entitled: Waitlist-Controlled Trial of Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Hoarding Disorder by Gail Steketee (and colleagues) the conclusion was that ‘Multi-component CBT was effective in treating hoarding. However, treatment refusal and compliance remain a concern…’
Also the NHS in England say that CBT has been shown to be effective in treating some mental conditions such as OCD and phobias which for me are in a similar category of mental disorder as cat hoarding.
I would like to see reports on (1) courts ordering prosecuted cat hoarders to attend a course of CBT treatment and (2) further studies on the treatment of cat hoarders with CBT.
The authorities need to be more involved in tackling the root cause of cat hoarding as well. Studies tell us that cat hoarding often starts after a traumatic event such as an illness, death of a significant other or disability. Perhaps some sort of intervention (support) early on may turn potential hoarders away from this form of compulsive behaviour.
Finally there is an argument that local ordinances (laws) might be strengthened to place barriers in the way of cat hoarders in acquiring cats e.g. limits on the number of cats allowed. These laws will be controversial but there is also a need to improve cat caretaking to reduce the number of unwanted cats. Specific laws on cat rescue may be the answer as hoarders consider themselves to be cat rescuers. In fact they think they are on a mission to save the lives of cats. This distinguishing them from object hoarders who hoard in case they need the item.
On finally point; having lots of cats does not automatically make the person a cat hoarder. Some people care for many cats to an excellent standard. A characteristic of cat hoarding is a failure to maintain cat welfare standards while being insensitive to this failure.