Cat hoarding – full discussion

Cat hoarding Armageddon
Cat hoarding Armageddon. Pic in the public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Preamble

This page has been refreshed, added-two and republished as that the date heading this page. They will be amended again. Why? Because this is a massive topic. It is an ongoing topic. Even the experts scratch their head sometimes as to how to deal with it. It is based on mental health problems and the local authorities struggle to deal with it because of his multi-disciplinary nature.

Animal hoarding is described as widespread and a “severe and complex form of animal cruelty”. It affects thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of animals. “An effective societal response to hoarding requires a multi-focused on multi-agency approach” according to a book titled Animal Hoarding by Arnold Arluke, Gary Patronek, Randall Lockwood and Allison Cardona.

This multiagency approach was instigated by Wake County, North Carolina in 2015. They developed a multidisciplinary, proactive approach. The concept was to assist the animals at risk, hold people accountable, address the mental health component and create a more humane community. The agencies and parties involved included: animal control officers, crisis intervention councillors, law enforcement officers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians and animal rescue partners. They felt that this “diverse team approach” was the best way to deal with animal hoarding.

One study published in July 2018 stated that a hoarding situation can incubate for years before it is reported to law enforcement. Often it is neighbours who report ammonia smells emanating from the home. According to a survey by Gary Patronek, animal control agencies estimate that there are approximately 3000 reportable cases of animal hoarding annually in the United States. Cases vary and the number of animals can be fewer than 20 to hundreds. In each case animal welfare is described as “suboptimal”. It might be better described as very poor to the point where many animals end up dying of starvation and neglect.

RELATED: A framework for eradicating cat hoarding in the United States of America

Cat Hoarding Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definition of Cat Hoarder
  3. The Reasons Hoarding Cats
  4. Table of Figures
  5. What the Agencies Say
  6. What Do You Think

Introduction

December 30th 2009. There are countless cases of animal hoarding. There is one today in the Wyoming News. A 60-year-old man living in south Cheyenne (map marks the spot) admitted he could no longer cope. There were about 50 cats; 32 were removed. His house was unbearable (toxic to humans) for the animal control officers. One room was habitable (of sorts) for humans, the remainder of the house was a total mess. The cats were stressed and so was the man. So, what happened?

Cat hoarding
Cat hoarding picture.

The interesting part of animal hoarding is the science and psychology behind it. At the beginning a cat hoarder is simply a cat keeper. Perhaps he or she has a couple of cats or a little more – no big deal. Then gradually, or quickly, the numbers grow. There comes a time when it gets out of hand and ACOs (Animal Control Officers in the USA) come in. There is a moment when the line is crossed from manageable to chaotic but the person almost always does nothing. Why? Just occasionally the person sees the light and recognises the fact that they cannot cope. They ask for help. However, there is a desperate reluctance to seek help or they don’t recognise the need for help.

RELATED: How do you stop ‘things getting out of control’ at cat hoarding situations?

There would appear to be more than one type of person who is prone to cat hoarding. But despite claiming to love or at least like cats they are unable to recognise that they are hurting them by housing them in unsanitary conditions. They are also unable to recognise that the situation is hurting themselves or at least they don’t care1.

It is said that the underlying problem is that an animal hoarder is not doing it for the animal but for themselves. This is what Dr. Patrone says. The irrationality of it indicates that this is the case because it takes little awareness or intelligence to recognise when the conditions for the cats is detrimental to them.

Definition of Cat Hoarder

A person who accumulates a large number of animals while failing to take account of the deteriorating conditions under which themselves and the animals live that affects the health of the animals.

In 1997 and interdisciplinary study group in the US, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, defined an animal hoarder as someone who has (1) accumulated a large number of animals which has overwhelmed the person’s ability to provide even minimal standards of care and (2) failed to acknowledge the problem as shown in very poor animal welfare and unsanitary conditions in the home and (3) failed to recognise the negative impact that the situation is having on their own health and well-being and other members of the household.

Kohl a cat hoarder
Linnea Kohl, 54, of Waukegan This is a police photo of a cat hoarder.

The Reasons for Cat Hoarding

On the basis that the hoarder recognises that the cats are living unhealthily, yet does nothing, it would imply that they are not interested in the welfare of the cats or animals. On that reasoning cat hoarding is not an altruistic activity but an egocentric one. But my view is that animal hoarders do wish to help animals and are kind hearted but are not aware of the appalling conditions or, although they recognise that the conditions under which both they and the cats live are often very poor, they accept them because their own personal standards have dropped to a very low level due to an inability to cope or because of extremely low self-esteem or both. And in my view, it is the inability to cope for various reasons, the most common of which is possibly low self-esteem, that creates this situation.

There are, after all, quite a high percentage of people with low personal standards of sanitation and personal hygiene. This is not to be critical of these people. It is just a fact. Extend this characteristic to the situation where there are cats that are treated as objects and not companion animals of equal standing and add in advancing age, dementia (in some cases), low self-esteem and depression and this is the making of cat hoarding.

My viewpoint is supported, I feel, by the statistics tabled below. Cat hoarders often don’t see a problem indicating a normalisation of extremely low standards. There are many people who are not animal hoarders who are like this. It also could be argued that kind hearted people often find life harder in a highly competitive and commercial world and therefore have greater difficulty in coping.

Many cats in truck looking at camera. There were 43 cats inside this U-Haul truck.

There is little in the way of studies or theories on or about cat hoarders, which is why I have had a go at it myself. The cause is unknown. This supports my theory that most often there is no medical or psychological cause (but see below). It is a great shame that the cats are hurt. But many millions of people who are not cat hoarders and who claim to care deeply for their cats hurt their cats because they view the cat as not quite deserving as equal treatment to a human (see Declawing cats as a good example).

What kind of person is an animal hoarder?

It goes beyond the classic image of a ‘crazy cat lady’. Although, in general, you will find that the majority of cat hoarders are middle-aged to elderly women. But it is not confined to that profile. Some live double lives. And they have to be secretive because they are often aware of their neighbours getting wind of what they’re doing. Hoarding behaviour has been discovered among professional people and a wide spectrum of social economic profiles and disadvantaged individuals.

Cat hoarders tend to be repeat offenders. Sometimes they are prosecuted because they are engaged in acts of animal cruelty. However, they need treatment more than prosecution and punishment. Even after punishment the cat hoarder may return to that same addictive habit.

There is a paradox in that many cat hoarders profess to love animals while simultaneously harming them and even killing them. When the animals are rescued because neighbours have indeed got wind of what is going on, many cats end up being euthanised because their health has so deteriorated due to long-term neglect.

Cat hoarders are unable to make rational decisions and manage their affairs. Sometimes they end up being placed under guardianship or supervised conditions. This indicates a mental health component in the problem.

Their animals become central to the hoarder’s identity. They develop a strong need for control and the thought of losing an animal can produce intense grief. Further, potential hoarders have often grown up in chaotic household with inconsistent parenting. A cat hoarder will have belief systems that are out of touch with reality. They may be delusional and paranoid. Apparently, there are similarities sometimes between animal hoarders and substance abusers. They both have impulse control problems. Animal hoarding is a mixture of various disorders and it may even include obsessive-compulsive disorder.

A study found that 2-3% of the human population suffers from OCD. Of these 15-30% have hoarding as a primary symptom. That is general hoarding. We don’t know what percentage are involved in animal hoarding.

Table of Figures

Event – Sample etc. Sample size = 54 cases. This covers all types of animal.Figure – percentage etc. This relates to a USA study published in 19992 The comments are my views alone.
Number of people who are animal hoarders.0.25 to 0.80 per 100,0003 but probably more common than this.
Male to female percentage of people who are hoarders.76% female 24% male — this is significant as in a rather aggressive male world the female is more vulnerable and less likely to cope.
Percentage of animal hoarders over 60 yrs of age.46% — this is significant as people become less energetic, are more prone to depression and dementia at this age.
Breakdown by State.Indiana 11 cases; Michigan 11 cases; California 10 case; Pennsylvania 6 cases; Texas 5 cases, Missouri 4 cases; Vermont 3 cases.
Average number of hoarded animals.39
Percentage of cases where a dead animal(s) or animals in very poor condition were discovered.80%
Percentage of hoarders who couldn’t see or who denied a problem existed.58% – this indicates either a denial of the problem (mental condition) or an acceptance of very low standards as normal (my analysis).
Percentage of hoarders who knew all of their animals by name.43% – indicating once again that the person saw no problem.
Most common reason for growth in number of animals.Unplanned breeding.
Percentage of animal hoarder’s homes that were filthy, heavily cluttered, messy with rubbish and had feces and urine in living areas41% (6% were reasonably tidy and clean)
Percentage of animal hoarders who were placed in some form of assisted living environment at the close of the case26% – indicating difficulties coping on the basis that they were not mentally ill.

 

What the Agencies Say

They concur with me, it seems, in saying that the “problem” of cat hoarding or animal hoarding is not a problem for the cat hoarder as for them it is a “lifestyle choice”. They say it is not a mental health or public health issue4. I agree the first but disagree the second assessment. Animal hoarding can be a public health issue for the neighbours. Most cases (57% of them) were reported by neighbours as the reason why the animal hoarding came to the notice of the authorities.

What Do You Think

…..Updates – Comments from visitors:

Theory of toxoplasmosis and cat hoarding

After watching another episode of Hoarders, I felt compelled to do a google search to see what the link is between hoarders and cats, since they all seem to own at least 3 of them. Is seems that cat feces cause toxoplasmosis which is linked to schizophrenia. Maybe these people start off with a couple of cats, and then get infected and become obsesses with hoarding. one site even suggested maybe that this is a survivalist tactic in the cats genes.

Anonymous

Thanks for the comment.

Do you think that limiting the number of cats that a person or persons can possess will help prevent cat hoarding? I know that in some cities or counties in the USA they have discussed ordinances which limit the number of cats that a person can own to about five. As I recall that has been discussed in Florida. It seems that the experts don’t think it can work because of difficulties in enforcing such a law. Also, the general population would seem to be against it. My thoughts are that it would certainly help to reduce the incidence of cat hoarding. This would happen despite the difficulties in enforcing it because, in general, people follow the law. There are difficulties in enforcing the law that requires people to wear seat belts but people still put them on.

RELATED: Legally, what should be the maximum number of cats and dogs per household?

notes

1

2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1308348/?page=1. This is a report based in the information provided by 10 agencies across the the USA. 54 cases were assessed. The cases relate to the period 1992-96.

3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1308348/?page=7

4 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1308348/?page=6

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