The cat hoarding gene

A story in the newspapers today about Britain’s worst hoarder where bodies of mummified cats were discovered among piles of belongings, prompts me to write again about cat hoarding. And I think it is fair to suggest that the ‘cat hoarding gene’ is in all of us. It never happens to 99.9% of us but what I mean is that humans have a predisposition to acquiring possessions. The acquisition of unused possessions is quite common. This is illustrated by celebrities occasionally divesting themselves of expensive and extravagant possessions through auctions to clear the decks.

People deal with this inbuilt desire in different ways. It’s about controlling one’s instincts and some people are very controlling. They keep their homes pristinely sheer while others let their hoarding gene takeover. They acquire both inanimate and animate possessions. Objects they never use and cats they can’t look after properly. For me, the underlying cause is anxiety because being surrounded by possessions can be reassuring.

We should be sensitive to cat hoarders because there but for the grace of God go I. The story I mention in the first paragraph is about a 70-year-old man living in Lancashire, UK. His home was stuffed to the rafters with junk including old kitchen appliances and newspapers. The only way to get into his home was through an upstairs window. Remarkable.

In this man’s case it led to cat cruelty through neglect; a consequence of cat hoarding but rarely the person has a moment of enlightenment and realises what they have become and they call in a cat rescue agency to sort the mess out. It’s happened once to my knowledge.

It’s important to approach cat hoarding with compassion and understanding. It’s a complex mental health problem. And there are different types of cat hoarding. Some cat hoarders are quite classy in their behaviour while at the opposite end of the spectrum there is chaos.

RELATED: Classy Cat Hoarder Spends £90,000 a Year On Her Cats

Let’s look at some of the common factors that can contribute to cat hoarding

Emotional attachment and loneliness: cat hoarders normally have a strong emotional attachment to animals. They find their presence comforting. They would find the presence of a single cat comforting but they magnify that with several and then many cats. It becomes an obsessive collection to constantly reinforce the reassurances against the uncertainties of life’s vicissitudes causing anxiety. Cats provide unconditional love and affection which is appealing to many people particularly those who struggle with social interactions.

Need to save all rescue animals: often cat hoarders start off with the idea that they are saving or rescuing animals and that they are the only ones able to do it. They may feel a responsibility to rescue animals to save them from harm or euthanasia at shelters. Ironically they often end up harming the animals they want to protect from harm.

Difficulty letting go or making decisions: often cat hoarders are poor decision-makers. And they normally lack objectivity. They can’t let go of possessions because, as mentioned, they are reassuring. In short, possessions whether they be inanimate or animate to make them feel better. And sometimes hoarders form emotional bonds with each individual cat which can make it harder to release them to shelters. It can be so bad that when a cat dies they still can’t release the cat and they put them in a freezer.

Lack of insight or awareness: I’ve mentioned objectivity above. Some hoarders don’t recognise or acknowledge that they have become a cat hoarder. They might not see the negative impact that they are having on the cats’ well-being. They might be blind to their neglect.

Acceptance: cat hoarders tend to accept the gross untidiness and mess that they create. Arguably, they are inherently untidy people anyway and are not bothered by the gross mess. This facilitates hoarding.

Mental health issues: it’s inevitable, I would argue that the genuine cat hoarder (as opposed to the multi-cat home) has mental health issues, perhaps borderline mental health issues or even severe mental health issues. They may be linked to an obsessive-compulsive disorder, attachment disorders, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Large number of cats: cat hoarders typically accumulate a large number of cats which exceeds their ability to care for them properly resulting in health issues and cat deaths.

Deteriorating living conditions: as it gets worse their living conditions deteriorate and faeces and urine accumulate around the home making the environment hazardous risking the health of both cats and the hoarder themselves.

Lack of veterinary care: often cat hoarders have very limited resources in terms of cash flow but often they live in a house which provides enough space for the hoarding to take place. This means the cats lacked veterinary care. This exacerbates cat health problems and the spread of contagious diseases.

Social isolation: hoarders are often socially isolated. In fact, they tend to shut the world out by closing all the windows to prevent the excessive ammonia smells from the urine leaving the building which could notify neighbours of their problem. This indicates an awareness of their problem but an inability to tackle it. Hoarders can have a strained relationship with family and friends and sometimes with neighbours. When the hoarding comes to an end it is because neighbours notify the local authorities or the police because of the smells. The animals are then rescued.

Denial and resistance to intervention: many hoarders resist assistance because they don’t want to recognise their hoarding behaviour. Or if they do recognise it they don’t see it as problematic. This attitude leads to the prolongation of cat hoarding and more animal health problems.

Legal implications: there can be legal implications because the cat hoarder’s home becomes unsanitary which can affect the health of neighbours in adjoining homes (e.g. rats). There will be local authority regulations regarding the situation. Hoarders can be in breach of these regulations.

Mental health treatment: I’m sure that in most cases a genuine cat hoarder requires and hopefully will receive mental health treatment but if not they almost inevitably return to their usual ways. You will see cat hoarders having been evicted from their rented home living in a van or car with the cats that they have hoarded in the most impossible of conditions.

Punishment: Cat hoarders are sometimes punished because they breach animal welfare laws but if they are punished it should be in conjunction with compassionate mental health treatment.

My thanks to Poe for holding my hand on the above.

P.S. A little postscript has come to mind. Cat hoarders wouldn’t be able to engage in their neglectful processes if there were no unwanted cats. We have to criticise the people who supply unwanted cats indirectly by allowing their cats to breed or by abandoning their domestic cat when they move. Or by abandoning their cats to shelters and so on and so forth. There are too many unwanted cats which makes them vulnerable and it places them in the firing line of the cat hoarder who wants to rescue them but in the end the tables are turned and true cat rescuers have to rescue the cats from the cat hoarder.

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

Gabapentin substantially improves adoption rate of shelter cats rescued from a hoarding environment

Cats living with a cat hoarder are almost invariably neglected. They are often only partly socialised, stressed and unhealthy. After rescue, a substantial percentage of them do not take well to a rescue facility. It may be so bad for them that they stop eating and toileting. They are essentially unadoptable because they’re so stressed. They may be euthanized. Other cats from the same environment adapt better and are more adoptable.

Gabapentin combined with a behaviour modification program can substantially improve rescue cats' rehabilitation and therefore chances of adoption after being rescued from a cat hoarding environment
Gabapentin combined with a behaviour modification program can substantially improve rescue cats’ rehabilitation and therefore chances of adoption after being rescued from a cat hoarding environment. Image as per the image (bottom left).

Anti-anxiety drug gabapentin plus behavioral program works

A study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association by Bailey Eagan, investigated the use of an anti-anxiety drug called gabapentin combined with a behaviour modification program to get the cats up to scratch to make them adoptable.

The results are encouraging. In the study, 94% of the cats found a new home. Two of the cats continued with fearful behaviour despite being administered with more medication and being transferred to foster homes. Regrettably, they decided to euthanise these two cats. I find that very sad by the way.

Kim Monteith, the manager of animal behaviour and welfare at the British Columbia SPCA is very happy with the research. She said:

“Bailey’s research has already changed everything. We are able to help more cats.”

She said that often when they brought cats in from a hoarding situation, they wouldn’t have good outcomes. And they didn’t know how to help them.

Nicely written study

What I like about this study, as well, is that they have taken to heart a criticism that I have made in the past about scientists using almost unintelligible language to write up their reports. In this case they’ve produced a nice infographic setting out the major points of their research. In addition, the report itself is written in ‘better’ (plainer) English. This is important because it means that their work can be read by unqualified people and understood.

It’s important that scientists get their message across to as many people as possible not just other scientists!

Some more detail on the study

The cats received 10 mg/kg of liquid gabapentin or a placebo every 12 hours. The placebo was used as a ‘control’ to be able to compare the effect of the antianxiety drug with no-drug.

Out of 32 fearful cats, 87.5% (28 cats) came through the behaviour modification program in 11 days with a range of four days to 51 days. The report states that cats giving gabapentin progressed more quickly through the behaviour modification program. The average time spent undergoing the behaviour modification program was halved for those cats given gabapentin.

The overall conclusion is that “daily gabapentin was beneficial in behaviour modification progress and reduced signs of stress in shelter cat. Fearful cats from hoarding environments can be successfully treated with behaviour modification ± daily gabapentin within an animal shelter”. I believe that the “±” symbol means that you can provide the cats with varying amounts of gabapentin as appropriate.

Weakness in the study?

Note: it is sad that the cats are reliant on gabapentin. I don’t know at what stage they came off it. There must be a time when that happens. Gabapentin is also used by people for anxiety. It is addictive. My search of the study report for the word “addictive” did not produce any results. I therefore presume that they have not addressed the addictive nature of this drug. I don’t know whether that’s a weakness or not.

My research indicates that it should not be taken for more than several weeks to avoid becoming addicted to it and perhaps encountering problems when coming off it. This needs to be addressed when giving this drug to rescue cats. Did they address this?

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You’re not a cat hoarder but a cat food hoarder!

There is an interesting discussion on cat food on social media. It’s about how much you store in your kitchen or to use an old-fashioned word, pantry. Does this picture reflect your attitude to cat food purchase and storage?

Well stocked with cat food at this home
Well stocked with cat food at this home. Image: Reddit.com

The person concerned said that visitors to her home said that she spoiled her cats because of all the food. Well, that was an incorrect observation for the following reasons. The visitor was implying that she fed her cats too much I guess or was it a reference to the high-quality cat food she buys?

Wet cat food is supplied in tins and sachets. They have a very long shelf life. It is so long that it can almost be ignored. Dry cat food lasts even longer. This encourages cat caregivers to buy more than they reasonably need in order to reduce shopping excursions.

They buy in bulk for the sake of convenience and efficiency. That said sometimes people can overdo things when there is a supermarket down the road. Why clog up the home which might be an apartment with piles of cat food when it should be stored at the supermarket?

The answer to that question is probably: anxiety. There is a lot of quiet, underlying anxiety in the world. Hoarding is an outward manifestation of anxiety, even fear.

Storing too much cat food in the home because you can due to the long shelf-life might be an expression of anxiety – sometimes. It feels better to have lots of cat food there – ‘just in case’. It is an insurance policy against inadvertently running out, God forbid.

Having lots of anything stored at home makes some people feel more secure. It is reassuring. On that basis it’s fine. Let them do it. But storage of items beyond a reasonable need to do so is an emotional reaction.

What I am saying is particularly relevant today with mass delivery services for any product you wish. A lot of people do most of their shopping online. I do.

If you want to buy 4 month’s supply of cat food it makes sense for a delivery guy to transport it and carry it to your doorstep. No lugging around in supermarkets and because of that there is not reasonable need to have lots of cat food at home.

Of course, all the above is conditional on you having one or two cats. If you are a cat hoarder too, the amount of food in the picture is the minimum. Although cat hoarders don’t buy cat food of this quality. They are often blind to health and welfare issues.

P.S. There is a nice spin-off to buying online which is particularly relevant today. Covid is still around. It is still infecting people. It has mutated but it has not gone away. In avoiding supermarkets, you are protecting yourself from possible infection.

Owners of cats and dogs poisoned to death by commercially prepared foods should receive an automatic $10,000 payment in compensation

Tip on opening a can of cat or dog food with ease (hands only)

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53 facts and thoughts about cat hoarding

Here are 53 facts interspersed with some thoughts of my own about cat hoarding. The facts come from studies and therefore they are scientifically based. There may be some overlap in these facts. The information comes from several scientific studies including those referred to in The Welfare of Cats. The facts are presented in bullet fashion and have been listed as they occur in my research. The research comes mainly from the US and for comparison I have included research from Serbia.

Cat hoarding
Cat hoarding. Image in public domain. Click for a larger version.

  1. In America, 76% of cat hoarders are female and nearly half are 60 years of age or older and most are unmarried and live alone.
  2. In a major American study (Patronek 1999), 11% of the hoarders were younger than 40 years of age.
  3. In the same study, 72.2% of hoarders were reported to be single, divorced or widowed.
  4. 55.6% were described as living in single-person households whereas 14.8% were reported as married or living with a significant other.
  5. In this major American study, the average number of animals hoarded was 39 but there are four cases of a hundred animals or more.
  6. In 35.2% of cases only one species of animal was involved whereas in 31.5% of cases two species were involved, 22.2% of cases three species were involved and in 11.1% of cases four or more species were involved.
  7. In 80% of cases animals were found dead or in poor condition to extreme malnourishment, disease or injury.
  8. In 58% of these cases the hoarder would not acknowledge to the investigating officer that the problem existed.
  9. In 42.6% of cases the hoarder knew all the animals by name whereas in 33.3% of cases the hoarder did not know the animals by name but only new a few of them by name.
  10. In 77.6% of cases the homes were described as heavily cluttered and unsanitary and it 69.4% of cases there was animal faeces and urine in the human living areas.
  11. In 32.7% of cat hoarding cases there was no working bathroom and in 20.4% of cases there was no working cooking facilities.
  12. In 20.4% of cases there was no refrigerator and no working heat in 14.3% of these homes.
  13. In 26.5% of cat hoarding examples the hoarder’s bed was soiled with human or animal urine or faeces or both.
  14. It seems to me that one aspect is that the people involved cannot cope and I would argue they can’t cope in general not just because they have too many cats. These are people who would need help even if they were not hoarders.
  15. Dead animals were found in 59.3% of residences.
  16. In 84.2% of cases the clutter prevented normal movement around the home.
  17. The hoarder recognised the lack of sanitation in 26.3% of cases.
  18. In 25.9% of cases, there was extensive accumulation of newspapers and in 38.9% of trash and in 16.7% pet food.
  19. The resumption of hoarding was common after a case had been dealt with and closed. Hoarders often disappear and resurface months later in a different neighbourhood, hoarding all over again. One woman was reported purchasing a new home every few years and reducing it to an uninhabitable level each time.
  20. In 26% of cases the hoarder was placed under guardianship, institutional care or some form of supervised living and in 11% of cases the hoarder’s home was condemned as unfit for human habitation.
  21. 70% of hoarders were prosecuted and prohibited from owning animals for a period and in 80% of cases the hoarder was monitored.
  22. In 24% of cases the hoarder underwent psychiatric evaluation.
  23. A small number of hoarders are prosecuted serving short jail terms of between 10 days and six months. This indicates that the authorities see crimimal proceedings and punishment as unsatisfactory.
  24. Sometimes a range of public services are involved in dealing with cat hoarders including child welfare, mental health, fire, sanitation, departments dealing with elderly people.
  25. The fact that at least 1/4 of hoarders were subsequently institutionalised or placed in guardianship indicates that they were suffering from early stages of dementia or unspecified psychiatric conditions.
  26. The news media often write about cat hoarding cases because they are extreme and sometimes bizarre. They are sensationalised in news media.
  27. Prosecution is an incomplete solution in most cases.
  28. In Serbia, 77% of cat hoarders are women and 23% are men as per a study in that country. They are mainly widowed, divorced or single women and men (75%).
  29. In Serbia 25% of the cat hoarders are family members living in families
  30. Generally hoarders are on low incomes and educated up to secondary level.
  31. In general, cat hoarders are unemployed.
  32. In Serbia dogs rather than cats are the most prevalent species to be hoarded at 56% dogs and 21% for cats.
  33. Sometimes other animals are hoarded such as farm animals and wild animals.
  34. Cat hoarding varies in severity from say 10 cats living in just about passable conditions to over a hundred living in a home which is uninhabitable and covered in urine and faeces as well as dead and sick animals.
  35. My neighbour is a cat hoarder. She is also a hoarder of other objects. There appears to be an overlap and a person predisposed to hoarding in general is the type who might end up hoarding cats.
  36. In America, although hoarders accumulate other species of animal, cats are involved in 65% of cases.
  37. In 1997, in America, an interdisciplinary group was formed to deal with this matter: Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. The objective was to develop improved interventions, to research, and provide veterinary support and public education.
  38. Cat hoarding is a major form of animal abuse and of human mental illness. I would suggest that not all cat hoarders are obviously mentally ill but perhaps suffer from a borderline mental illness such as extreme anxiety and hoarding helps to deal with anxiety.
  39. In the worst cases of cat hoarding, the perpetrator is probably mentally ill or suffers from dementia and the animals suffer severe abuse through neglect.
  40. These hoarders accumulate large numbers of animals which overwhelm them and they can no longer care for them.
  41. They often fail to recognise the fact that they are harming the cats in their care despite the fact that they profess to love cats. They also fail to recognise the harm that hoarding cats are doing to them in their lives.
  42. It’s been suggested that if people have human-like expectations of cats which are not met or when people over-empathize with the animals, abuse and hoarding may result.
  43. In Serbia, a study found that the predominant type of cat hoarder was an overwhelmed caregiver (50%) compared to a rescuer hoarder (35%) or an ‘exploiter hoarder’ (15%).
  44. In Serbia 35% of the hoarders surveyed had up to 50 animals, 52% had between 51-100 animals and 13% had over 100 animals.
  45. The response by law enforcement to animal abuse by cat hoarders is often inadequate. This is because proactive steps were not taken and therefore animals have suffered, and the hoarder will often go back to their same habits after punishment.
  46. In my experience, nothing or little is done proactively to prevent hoarding such as an ordnance (local legislation) which limits the number of cats that a person can keep to, say five per household. Perhaps this sort of ordnance has not been enacted because it is impossible to enforce.
  47. Normally, the only way hoarding is dealt with is through the criminal process after a neighbour reports smells emanating from the house where the cats are kept. It is an inadequate situation.
  48. There have on occasions been attempts to resolve these problems by creating new laws addressing animal hoarding but they had been controversial and ineffective.
  49. Sometimes cat hoarders operate on social media such as Facebook presenting themselves as cat rescuers and acquiring cats through Internet connections only then to hoard cats and harm them. One good example was: Julianne Westberry saga – seeking closure – identifying cats.
  50. In one major study, the average number of people per household in a cat hoarding home was 1.6.
  51. Only in a low number of households were their children ranging in the age from 2-15.
  52. 71.7% of the homes were single family homes, 13.2% were house trailers, and a small proportion were apartments or condominiums.
  53. 51.9% of the cat hoarding homes in a major study were in urban areas, 27.8% were in rural areas and 20.4% were in suburban areas.

Cat hoarding
Cat hoarding. Image in the public domain. Click for a larger image.

Below are some more articles on hoarding.

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Volunteer who rescued cats from cat hoarders was hoarding cats herself

FLORIDA – NEWS AND VIEWS: This is the story of a volunteer cat rescue worker who rescued cats from cat hoarders while at the same time being a cat hoarder herself. It is highly unusual in that respect. It is the story of 36-year-old Michelline Toulouse.

Michelline Toulouse
Michelline Toulouse. Video screenshot.

She lives in an apartment at Sunrise, Florida, USA (Mail Online). She worked at an animal rescue organisation called Saving Sage Animal Rescue. I think (could be wrong) that this rescue is named after a domestic cat, Sage, who was brutally abused and killed by an unknown person. The story was all over the Internet at the time, several years ago.

But back to Michelline Toulouse who is also all over the Internet at the moment because of the unusual nature of this story. She volunteered her services at this animal rescue while also running her own cat rescue called Love Is Feral. Her rescue was said to trap, rehabilitate and rehome homeless cats in South Florida. It was from her rescue charity, as I understand it, that she was rescuing cats from cat hoarders. However, it appears that she was bringing those cats back to her apartment where there were at least 50 cats in filthy conditions. She herself was unable to cope and is a cat hoarder.

The sad part of the story, which is so typical of cat hoarding, is that the cats had suffered badly. They were malnourished and some were living in the walls of the apartment it is reported. Also, sadly, at least 10 were already dead according to a report from WPLG.

The Michelline Toulouse story
Michelline Toulouse story. The usual cat hoarding filth and ammonia stench and the poor suffering ‘rescued’ cats. Credit as per photo.

Her hoarding behaviour was discovered by a colleague at the Saving Sage Animal Rescue facility. Michelline Toulouse had been sacked for the alleged theft of $300, which had been recorded on surveillance cameras inside the facility.

After she had been sacked a colleague wanted to go to her home to find out how she was. She then discovered the incredible mess and stench in the apartment and the 50+ cats. Subsequently she has been charged with nine counts of animal cruelty. She has also been charged with theft. And her boyfriend, Jerome Junior Vaughan also faces charges according to News 7 Miami.

Note: This is a video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.


Saving Sage Animal Rescue are relieved that she has been found out and the cats have been rescued from her home. In the statement they said that “It is unimaginable that a fellow rescuer would be responsible for such horrors.”

Statement of Sage rescue
Statement of Sage rescue. Screenshot.

As I say in the title to this post, she was a willing volunteer in the business of animal rescue and she rescued cats from hoarders and then placed those cats back in another hoarding environment of her making. It is astonishing and it indicates a faltering grasp on reality by Michelline Toulouse.

It looks like she needs some help as well as punishment. My personal opinion and my research indicate that cat hoarding is a bona fides mental illness of a specific type and it emanates from the inability to make a decision about releasing oneself from the objects that you have in your possession. It’s a mental health problem which stops people from divesting themselves of objects because they’re not sure whether it’s a good idea or not. And therefore, they keep them to the point where hoarding is established and they can no longer cope. However, cat hoarders are also blind to the cruelty of their actions which is through neglect.

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Foul ammonia odour exposes homes where there are too many cats

I’m reminded by a story from California that it is the foul ammonia smell emanating from homes in which there are too many cats which always exposes these homes to the authorities because at the end of the day a neighbour complains as the smells constantly waft into their home. They might accept it for a long time but they tire of it and complain.

And the truth of the matter is that unless you are exceptional you will always get these foul odours building up in a home where there are too many cats.

Singapore cat hoarder seeks help
Singapore cat hoarder seeks help. Photo: Instagram page of the rescue who is helping her: Cats of Anchor Vale.

Too many cats?

So, what is too many cats? I’m going argue that any more than five is too many cats. Typically, 15-20 cats are sometimes owned in a single home and it may even be a bigger number. This is when things become chaotic and incredibly smelly.

The reason why odours build up

You probably know this but the reason why an ammonia-like smell builds up is because some cats become too stressed when they are ‘banged up’, in close confinement, with other cats. Domestic cats need space around them. They need their own space, their home range a.k.a. their territory. The more cats you have in a home the less individual space each cat has. Domestic cats are adaptable and so they learn to accept this restriction in space but some cats are more adaptable than others and those that aren’t urinate inappropriately and someone defecate inappropriately. And some will mark territory by spraying urine even when they are sterilised. It is the urine which has the ammonia smell.

And even if they all use litter trays the person has to be incredibly committed to clean 20 litter trays twice a day. And the problem is that the kind of person who adopts too many cats is the kind of person who does not look after litter trays properly. In other words, they are inherently slightly careless, at least. They lack discipline. And the only way you can care for 20 cats in a home is to be incredibly self-disciplined, organised, intelligent, committed, clever, and be incredibly good at DIY.

I would say that given total freedom, a domestic cat has a home range of about two or 3 acres. It depends on the cat but in a multi-cat home they are going to have about 3 yd² of individual space.

And of course, they have to be confined to the home because people who have too many cats keep their activities away from prying eyes. They keep it secret because they know that they are open to criticism from neighbours. They are on the back foot and are constantly trying to keep things secret. Even if they open a window, as they must do during a hot summer, this foul smell will leak out of the home into other homes nearby. It is almost impossible to contain this pungent odour.

And they can’t build a backyard enclosure to give the cats more space because then they become visible to neighbours. This will lead to complaints, at least potentially. The process of having say 20 cats in one home almost inevitably leads down the path of horrible ammonia smells unless you are Mr Cohen in California!

Note

Note: Some people do cope. And I wish them no harm and I don’t want to criticise. I am sympathetic because often their motivation is to help cats. Ironically it is an attempt at improving cat welfare. But oftentimes it is self-indulgent, ill-disciplined stupidity.

Mr Cohen

Although there must be others, Mr Cohen is the only person that I know who has 15 cats in a beautifully kept home with absolutely no smell except I guess the sweet smell of plants. He achieves this by having 22 litter boxes servicing 15 cats. This is completely in line with Jackson Galaxy’s advice on having more litter boxes than cats. But critically he keeps every litter box in a closet so the odours are confined to the closet. And more importantly he has constructed (he is a builder) a ventilation system which draws the air out of these closets and expels it to the exterior; I presume through the roof to avoid the odours being picked up by neighbours. Although, I believe that he lives in a detached house not that close to neighbours.

Cohen's catified home
Cohen’s catified home. Photo: Peter Cohen. He has 15 cats and 22 litter boxes in enclosed spaces and each has an extraction fan taking the smells to the exterior.

But the point of this little story is that you have to be very competent in order to avoid those dreaded foul smells. And there are very few people who are committed enough to doing this. In fact, it goes with the territory that the person who carelessly acquires too many cats is going to be careless regarding avoiding the smells.

Conclusion

Because in almost every case too many cats in a home causes foul ammonia-like smells, which are picked up by neighbours, the only conclusion is that around five cats should be the maximum number allowed by any one person to have in their home. And this should be a local animal welfare law drawn up by the local authority. I know people dislike this kind of law but there is still a minority of people who end up having too many cats. The only way to stop it is through legislation. Legislation would provide a proactive means of dealing with this problem.

At the moment the problem is always dealt with reactively, when it’s too late really because it means that many cats are being badly cared for often for a long time. This is bad in terms of animal welfare. It is also bad in terms of the reduced quality of the environment enjoyed by neighbours living in homes next to a home where there are too many cats.

Yes, I am fully aware that it would be difficult to enforce a law which restricted people to 5 cats. That, though is not the point because, in general, citizens tend to comply with the law. Not everyone does but the presence of a law helps to change attitudes. That is the point I want to make.

Example

I am motivated to write this article because today The Mercury News reports on a neighbour who complained about an odour coming from a Glendora home which led to the seizure of 33 cats and one dog. As is typical of these situations seven cats were found dead and three were later euthanised but it doesn’t have to get that bad.

The cat owner was charged with cruelty to animals but once again it doesn’t need to get that bad. I think that if a person has 10 cats creating this enormously bad spell in the home, it is a mild case of cat abuse. The cats are forced to live in a home in which the atmosphere is foul. The humans also live in it but they accept it.

Back to the story: on June 10, the Glendora city’s code-enforcement unit received a report from a neighbour about a strong odour coming from the home in the 2000 block of East Linfield Street. The Humane Society was notified and they sent eight officers together with the police to the home!

The Humane Society issued a statement in which they said that “It’s vitally important that community members don’t delay in reporting suspicious behaviour relating to animals or odours coming from a home, because time is of the essence to stop irresponsible pet owners and save those animals’ lives.”

As I said, a law restricting the number of cats to 5 would be a proactive step to prevent animal abuse and cruelty. It’s too late, in this example, for the seven cats who died in this deplorable home.

Don’t blame the cats

There has to be a reminder that this problem is about people and not the cats. The cats behave instinctively and naturally. They do what they have to do under the circumstances in which they live. They are put into highly inappropriate circumstances. This is not the way cat domestication should be. It is a failure in cat domestication. But it is the cats who suffer silently while the humans become adapted to the foul-smell in which they permanently live.

Hoarders are hoarders

It is probably worth mentioning that people predisposed to hoarding inanimate objects which others might consider to be rubbish are also predisposed to hoarding sentient creatures such as domestic cats. It seems that people of a certain mentality cannot differentiate between inanimate objects and living ones. And they are often blind to what they are doing although not always because they are sensitive to complaints from neighbours. This indicates that they are able to objectively look at what they are doing and know that it is incorrect in terms of society’s standards.

It is my belief, incidentally, that one reason behind hoarding is fear and anxiety. A lot of people are fearful and anxious. They keep things just in case they might need them and they do this out of an innate anxiety. The trouble is the world is becoming more complicated and more stressful and therefore the problems I have described won’t go away but are likely to get worse.

Seeking help

It is only exceptionally rarely that a cat hoarder seeks help. It has happened in one reported case. But often the end is tragic but for the person in the cats. This is another reason why proactive steps need to be taken as mentioned.

Some pages on hoarding

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Cat hoarding up and feral cat numbers up USA

I am going to combine two news items in this post. One comes from PETA and the other from news media. PETA states that animal shelters are turning their backs on cats which is leading to more cases of cat hoarding. They say that shelters are turning away cats because they are under pressure to become no-kill which means they can’t make space in the shelter by euthanising cats. They run out of space and therefore turn away cats. That’s the argument. PETA prefer cats to be euthanised which is controlled killing rather than allowing cats to be abandoned and dying in a cruel way.

PETA also state that cat hoarders pose as cat rescuers. I have known this for many years. They tend to operate on social media, particularly Facebook presenting to the world that they are concerned about cat welfare. While they do this they harm cats through their hoarding leading to neglect. Sometimes the neglect leads to starvation and death. It is quite horrible. PETA referred to a California woman who described herself as a “rescuer of stray cats”. She was a hoarder and has been charged with felony cruelty to animals. You can imagine the conditions and the abuse so I won’t describe it. This case would not be unusual.

Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food
Cat hoarding cat in cage with no water or food. Photo: PETA.

PETA also state that some state legislations have tried to legalise cat abandonment and strip cats of legal protection. They refer to a bill going through the Virginia legislature, Senate Bill 1390. They argue that the bill, “would have effectively allowed municipalities, groups, and individuals to abandon cats outdoors without providing them with any care.”

There have been several news media accounts of an increase in feral cats in America. They argue this is due to veterinary services not providing discount spaying and neutering services in the usual way due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to feral cats procreating more than usual, leading to more feral cats. One news media website say that the feral cat population on Long Island has seen a jump during the pandemic for this reason.

It is possible, too – although I have not seen this mentioned news media – that volunteers who run TNR programs may have been reluctant to continue their work during the pandemic for social distancing reasons. It depends how risk-averse they are. Although the work of running TNR programs is, I would argue, relatively safe in terms of contracting Covid-19 because the work is outside and the volunteers can remain socially distanced.

TNR should continue during the coronavirus crisis
TNR should continue during the coronavirus crisis. Collage: PoC. Pic: Humane Soc.

Another factor, perhaps a minor one, is that there may have been some cat abandonments during the Covid-19 pandemic because of the fear of contracting the disease from their pets. And there may be financial issues due to unemployment leading to abandonment of pets. These cats may become feral. Some of them might not be neutered which would make them a source of future feral cats, at least potentially.

The Grand Forks Herald reports that the pandemic has resulted in reduced animal-control efforts at a time when “Covid-stressed pet owners began to dump unwanted cats on street corners.”

They refer to Christine Gruber who monitors six feral cat colonies in the Dayton’s Bluff area of St Paul, who said that she cannot keep pace with the “rising tide of unadoptable cats.”

Gruber said, “It’s becoming harder for me to even make a dent.”

They say that the animal welfare system is a casualty of the pandemic. Once again they refer to a shutdown of clinics performing spaying and neutering operation. In addition 66 cat-rescue groups were forced to shut down. The Animal Humane Society permanently closed its shelter in St Paul. They suspended importing pets from other states.

However, Minnesotans are looking to adopt more frequently. In the UK this has happened as well and dogs are preferred over cats. In Minnesota it is said that nonprofits suspended the mobile spay/neuter vans serving the areas of low income communities. This forced them to pay $350 for spaying a cat. They couldn’t afford it because they had their own problems due to the pandemic. This resulted in cats being dumped.

The founder of the cat-rescue group SCRAM, Laura Johnson, said that feral cat colonies were growing statewide in Minnesota and that there are thousands of cats near Pine City which is about 60 miles north of the metro area.

Conclusion: I won’t go on but the clear impression is that the ‘feral cat problem’ has increased during the coronavirus pandemic for the reasons mentioned above. This is very sad because a lot of very good people have spent a lot of time and effort in doing their best to reduce feral cat numbers in many communities across the US. The problem of cat hoarding is a perennial one. It is not going away. The local authorities need to come up with solutions to deal with the problem at the root. It comes down to mental health issues and education in combination with in excess of cats which are readily available to people predisposed to hoarding.

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Cat hoarder admits defeat and seeks help which is rare

It is rare, in my experience of reading about cat hoarders, for a cat hoarder to seek help. In order to seek help you need to be able to observe and assess your behaviour objectively. Cat hoarders tend to find this difficult perhaps because they are so totally wrapped up in their behaviour that they find it impossible to step back and observe what they’re doing. Or perhaps they are able to see what they’re doing but through guilt and shame are unable to seek help because that would be an admission of their failure and poor behaviour.

Singapore cat hoarder seeks help
Singapore cat hoarder seeks help. Photo: Instagram page of the rescue who is helping her: Cats of Anchor Vale.

This Singapore resident (named as “Tldr”) overcame those barriers and sought help. Through a lack of experience and sensible management she ended up with 40 cats in what appears to be a fairly normal residence judging by the photograph on this page. It is a quietly shocking photograph.

Normally, cat hoarding homes are a complete mess. They are diabolical but in this instance we see what would otherwise be a fairly normal kitchen littered with domestic cats and some of them don’t look that well.

In fact, I’m sure that some of them are not well at all because they were breeding in an uncontrolled way and the kittens being created were dying and then being eaten by the adult cats. That is how it is reported. Clearly the lady did not consider spaying and neutering which is how the problem rapidly deteriorates and things get out of control.

It’s interesting to note that she appears to have been the sole family provider because her husband is visually impaired. Her daughter is at primary school and the coronavirus pandemic caused her to lose her job. Perhaps it was the loss of her job which was the final straw; the point at which she decided to seek help. She simply couldn’t make ends meet and providing for 40 cats is expensive. No doubt she was unable to provide for them adequately which is the reason why some became unhealthy. The report says that she first approached a “community feeder”. I’m going to presume that this means a person involved in TNR of feral cats which includes feeding them. That person appears to have contacted a local animal rescue organisation who have an Instagram page where the picture on this page is posted (I enhanced it a little).

The rescue group say that they have to take the cats to their rescue centres or foster carers in batches because of the high number and process them in that way. It means spaying and neutering plus dealing with their medical problems. The sterilisation will be carried out by Cat Welfare Society who will provide a free service. They couldn’t cope with all the cats and therefore referred some of them onto another organisation called Animal & Veterinary Service.

The cat rescue organisation claims that there has been media interference which has made matters worse. I’m not sure what that means – possibly trolling on social media. They are seeking donations. I believe that their Instagram page is called Cats of Anchor Vale – catsofanchorvale. If by chance somebody from Singapore reads this and wants to help, please contact them via their Instagram homepage from which they can go to a donations page.

Instagram post

View this post on Instagram

#Repost @callmebymewmew ⁣ ・・・⁣ [#TheCabinetKitties – Part 1]⁣ ⁣⁣ Tldr; a cat owner had approached a community feeder to seek guidance on sterilising her cats and rehoming them as she lacked knowledge and resources to do so, which resulted in the current situation of over 40 cats and kittens. The feeder reached out to us for help as she's unable to manage alone.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The owner had lost her job during the pandemic and her husband is visually handicapped. It is difficult for them to make ends meet, not to mention providing for their cats. They also have a primary school daughter and need social support to help them tide through this difficult period. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Initially, we wanted to visit just to do a headcount on the number of cats to be sterilised. However, we are unable to turn a blind eye to the vulnerable kitties that needed our immediate attention. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ For a start, we hope to be able to rescue the kitties in batches so that we can slowly sterilise them and prevent more births. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ You can support our rescue in one of the following ways: ⁣⁣ ⁣ 1. Our priority would be funds to cover the sterilisation costs of more than 40 cats, their boarding fees, basic vet checks as well as any medical treatment required for their severe flu and skin condition. Professional trapper may be required for the feral cats who are hiding behind the cabinets and this would incur additional costs too. ⁣ ⁣ If you can spare any amount to help these cats, please donate to: PayNow 82646557 or OCBC 686-751983-001 (indicate "CabinetKits"). ⁣⁣⁣⁣Donations will be publicly acknowledged in a later post.⁣ ⁣ 2. If you are unable to donate funds, you may also sponsor necessities for the cats, such as litter, litter boxes as well as wet/dry food for both adult and kittens. KMR for the newborn will be essential as well. ⁣ ⁣ We really appreciate everyone's support in our rescue cases so far as we didn't expect to handle two consecutive hoarder cases this year (see #Board112). Every effort will go a long way, thanks everyone. 🙏🏻

A post shared by cats of anchorvale (sengkang) (@catsofanchorvale) on

Note: I can’t guarantee that this will be here for the long term future because the rescue group may close eventually and close their Instagram account as well.


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