Hoarding pets a mental health issue

By Tom Fortner • Published: July 20th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In a society that places pets on a pedestal, sometimes it seems that no behavior is too extreme… from high-priced canine coiffures to elaborate kitty condos.

But one manifestation of our fondness for pets steps over the line: animal hoarding.

An animal hoarder is not normally the person who, out of a humane impulse, provides a haven for a few unwanted or stray dogs or cats.

Instead, these individuals are driven by an irrational need, accumulating animals far beyond their ability to adequately care for them. In extreme cases, that could be twenty, fifty, a hundred animals or more.

There are estimated to be as many as two-thousand animal hoarding cases per year in the United States. When these cases come to light, charges of animal cruelty are usually leveled against the hoarder. While there’s no question the animals are mistreated, mental health experts stress that the hoarder often suffers from a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As such, hoarders may not intend to harm the animals, or be able to grasp the consequences of their neglectful behavior. Rather, they often see themselves as rescuers of the animals.

About eighty percent of the people discovered hoarding animals are women. Many are older and live alone. But hoarders cross the demographic spectrum.

Experts say the impulse to hoard is extremely difficult to treat and requires cooperation of multiple community agencies to address. Without long-term support, nearly all hoarders relapse into this behavior, which is tragic for all concerned.