Animal hoarding is a complicated issue that runs far deeper than the stereotypical "cat lady" who has far too many feline companions. The first step to understanding this type of behavior is to define what it is and why people exhibit this type of behavior.
About Animal Hoarding
Animal hoarding is more than simply having a number of animals on the property. The criteria for hoarding of animals is as follows:
- A larger than usual number of animals in the individual's home
- Inability to care for the animals appropriately insofar as the animals are experiencing illness, starvation or dying as a result
- Denial of the lack of care being given to the animals and the impact the behavior is having on the other residents of the home and the building itself
People who exhibit animal hoarding behavior sometimes refer to it as "collecting". This pattern of behavior is not the same thing as collecting, since that word implies a benign activity that is enjoyable to the participant. Hoarding of animals is a symptom of a compulsive mental disorder and can manifest with other types of hoarding behaviors.
Profile of an Animal Hoarder
There is no set profile of a person who becomes an animal hoarder. It is an issue that affects young and old, as well as those who have never married, people who are currently married, widowed or divorced. Animal hoarding is not something that is limited to people who are not well educated or who work in menial jobs. Professionals, and even individuals who work in the veterinary field, have hoarded animals. It's possible that these individuals are better at hiding the conditions in their homes than people who have fewer resources at their disposal.
Types of Animals Hoarded
Cats and dogs aren't the only types of animals that a person may decide to start "collecting". They tend to be the most common animals found in hoarding cases since they are relatively easy to acquire and to conceal. Here are some other examples of animals that a person who is engaging in animal hoarding may focus attention on:
- Guinea pigs
Effects of Animal Hoarding on Humans
Animal hoarding is not a healthy activity for the human residents in a home. The number of animals that are not being cared for appropriately means that the dwelling is probably not being kept free from animal urine and feces. The waste products can be found on multiple surfaces of the home, including floors, beds and counter tops. The presence of the animal excrement in the home means the inhabitants are at increased risk for parasites and unsafe ammonia levels. Increased risk of diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans is another hazard associated with animal hoarding. Being bitten by a cat, dog or a rodent carries with it the risk of being infected by rabies, ringworm or hookworm. Toxoplasmosis is transmitted to humans by handling cat feces and can cause birth defects or stillbirths when pregnant women are infected. People who begin hoarding animals may not be looking after themselves properly. They may also be unable to provide appropriate care for their dependents. Not only do the home's occupants suffer from lack of basic care, their health is at risk because of unsanitary conditions in the home. Respiratory infections are not uncommon in homes where hoarding of animals is an issue.
The difference between hoarding and someone who enjoys having a lot of animals in their environment is whether the non-human residents are being cared for appropriately. The individual involved in hoarding may refer to their activities are "rescuing" the animals, but they don't have the capacity to appreciate that the animals are not better off for being adopted by the hoarder.