Perhaps it goes without saying that cat hoarding is a symptom of an illness or more accurately a symptom of an inability to cope rather than a specified medical condition or illness.
The statement that I’ve made is quite clear-cut – black and white – but this is misleading. The situation is not black and white but often quite complex. However, there is no doubt in my mind that many of the numerous examples of cat hoarding reported on news websites are often a symptom of an illness rather than the illness itself.
By being a symptom of an illness, as an illustration, an example would be that diarrhoea is a symptom of perhaps food poisoning or a stomach infection. The cause of diarrhoea will be a virus, bacteria or parasite.
The illness which leads to cat hoarding may be an a mental illness unconnected to hoarding per se, which leaves the person vulnerable and unable to cope. In fact, the person may not even be certifiably mentally ill but simply unable to cope because their capacity to cope has been diminished for whatever reason. This may be due to old age and reduced brain function. Often elderly people are involved with cat hoarding.
Being unable to cope and perhaps being alone the person may keep one or two cats as companions which the person fails to neuter or spay (the first act of poor coping behaviour). At this stage we have the beginnings of a cat hoarding situation. As the cats breed and the population grows the person who is unable to cope lets it all unfold around him. I don’t think that this is a situation that the person welcomes. The person simply accepts it as being beyond their control. They live amongst it with difficulty but it is not their objective that they have a large number of cats.
Hoarding of anything could arguably be the result of both insecurity and failing to cope. Collecting things probably creates a sense of security to the insecure person. In the case of inanimate objects this is deliberate but the underlying reason is insecurity which may in turn may be due to borderline mental illness. With respect to the domestic cat, the hoarding of cats is often not a deliberate process but simply an uncontrolled consequence of poor coping skill or will.
Cat rescue people can sometimes end up cat hoarding. This is not uncommon as we all know. I don’t think these people are very different to people who are not involved with cat rescue ending up hoarding cats. They no doubt end up being unable to cope but they cannot stop themselves taking in more cats which require rescuing. This is surely a mild version of mental illness. It is irrational. Under these circumstances the person is not deliberately hoarding or collecting cats. The increasing population of the cats is a consequence or a symptom of the person’s omissions to act.
There are examples of cat hoarding which are also examples of fraudulent behaviour. The Westberry case is an example. The Westberry case proves to us that there is no single reason for cat hoarding. Sometimes it is deliberate callousness but in my opinion deliberate abuse of cats resulting in hoarding for financial gain is very rare compared to the more typical reason as stated.
Cat hoarding spills over to cat abuse. Cat hoarders are rarely treated as criminals because they don’t have mens rea (criminal intent).