DennisBeaverSeptember 22, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver  

“Our entire family read your article about neighbors who were abusing their animals and what to do about it. I think we have a related problem, two houses from us, and we need some advice,” Shirley’s email began.

“About two months ago, a very cute little old lady moved into to the home, and both she and her son introduced themselves to all the immediate neighbors. She was well dressed, polite, and very nice. Her son took me aside and said, ‘Mom love cats, and dogs, so don’t be alarmed if you see a few. But if it gets too bad, please call me before calling anyone else.’ That statement was a bit strange, but within days we understood, boy did we understand!

“Suddenly there were cats everywhere, cars stopping and dropping cats and dogs off at her house, and there was this terrible smell of cat urine! The next time we saw her, from well groomed, she looked like a homeless person living on the streets. What’s going on here? Is she an animal hoarder?”

What is a hoarder?

We ran this fact situation by Stephanie Bell, Senior Director of Cruelty Casework at Norfolk, Virginia based PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)

“A hoarder,” Bell explained, “is someone who accumulates more animals than they are capable of caring for. You might have a well-meaning person with limited means who accumulates 15 cats but can’t afford to spray-neuter them and then you have 30 cats which soon become 60 cats.”

We asked her about so-called rescue hoarders

“These people send my blood pressure into the danger zone,” she replied. “Rescue Hoarders are people operating a “Rescue,” which should offer a safe haven to an animal in need. But not knowing their own limits, and lacking the proper resources to care for those animals, are often overrun with hundreds of animals who are not receiving the care that they need. We have also found hoarders who are breeding and selling animals, for profit.”

In total denial of the suffering they cause

“Hoarding is a pathological addiction to warehousing animals without concern for their quality of life, generating massive suffering while claiming to care for their victims. Someone with 150 cats and no money for medical care is a recipe for disaster,” she points out, “A single animal in a home typically requires hundreds of dollars of medical care in any given year. Someone with 150 animals needs to have tens of thousands of dollars if they are doing it right, and very often they don’t have a penny for medical care. So those animals suffer terribly.

“Hoarders are often in total denial of the reality of the suffering in their midst, animals living in filth and stench, untreated injuries and disease, often imprisoned in small, filthy cages. And yet the hoarders claim that everything is great! It’s a sickness,” Bell commented, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Many rescue hoarders often have misguided people who enable their behavior, by giving generously without fully understanding they are prolonging animal suffering.”

What are the signs that my neighbor is a hoarder?

“The signs of animal hoarding are difficult to miss and initially include the stench of cat urine emanating from the home. You often find squalor, buildings and yards that are in decrepit condition. Interestingly, on some level hoarders are sometimes aware this behavior is wrong and often don’t let people past the front door. However, a reputable facility will be happy to invite the public in, as they have nothing to hide.”

Families of hoarders also suffer

We asked Bell if animal hoarding and junk hoarding go hand in hand, and what effect does this sick behavior have on families?

“Yes, sometimes animal hoarders are also junk hoarders. While the junk isn’t suffering, the hoarder suffers in those environments as well as family members, their children, and the people who love them. But with animal hoarding it’s even worse, as the beings they are hoarding suffer so terribly in those environments.”

The cute little old lady with 100 cats isn’t so cute anymore

“We used to think that the little old lady with 100 cats was cute, but not anymore,” Bell underscores, adding, “The public are becoming more educated about the dangers of hoarding. Law enforcement understands this isn’t as benign a condition as it is had been thought of in the past.”

While studies indicate that the recidivism rate amazingly approaches 100 percent, “The most effective way for law enforcement to combat animal hoarding is to prosecute them and to have sentencing include a ban on owning animals in addition to psychiatric intervention,” Bell concludes.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.