Hoarding and Mental Illness

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Hoarding and Mental Illness

January 14, 2024

PAWS TO PONDER by Suzyn Barron, President of Warwick Valley Humane Society


Did you know, animal hoarding is a complex issue and happens everywhere, even in our beautiful, bucolic community.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) “Animal hoarding can be identified when a person is housing more animals than they can adequately and appropriately care for. This complicated issue   often encompasses mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns. Animal hoarding is defined by an inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, housing, and veterinary care—often resulting in over-breeding of animals, animal starvation, illness and even death. In some cases, guardians believe they are helping their animals and deny this inability to provide minimum care.”

Before my time here, there was the Oodles of Poodles case which requires no explanation.  A few years into my tenure we seized 15 dogs, 18 cats, 29 pigeons and an iguana all from inside of a small, horrid cabin.  This case changed New York State law allowing for a security bond to help with the care of the animals pending the outcome of the case if they are not relinquished.  Sometimes even sanctuaries become horrors when there are too many animals and too few caregivers who didn’t know when to say no to more intakes.

A few years ago, we checked on the animals for a person that was hospitalized only to find 69 rabbits living in squalor which overnight became 72!  This person was an out-of-control breeder.    We’ve rescued 12 cats from an unventilated storage unit on a very hot June day and removed 10 parakeets from an object hoarder.  We had to remove 19 cats and two badly matted dogs from a person who couldn’t care for them and three dogs and another 10 cats from deplorable conditions inside of another home.   Remember the” fire dogs” where we responded to a house fire only to find 50 dogs living in horrendous conditions? The couple was breeding the dogs for profit and pled guilty and are both on the County’s animal abuse registry which prevents them from owning animals for 15 years.

Many times the hoarding person lives among the animals in those same conditions.  “There’s a profound lack of insight that occurs in these cases,” says veterinarian epidemiologist Dr. Gary Patronek, an adjunct professor at the Center for Animals and Public Policy in the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The person is completely oblivious as to the conditions. They don’t see it”.

Animal hoarding is a form of animal abuse and has been classified as a type of mental illness. “The most disturbing aspect of hoarding is the psychological blindness of hoarders, their sheer inability to see the reality of what they are doing and how they are living” says Carrie Allan.  It can be the worst kind of neglect  as we have witnessed and rescued.  It is not always prosecutable. And, unfortunately, the recidivism rate for animal hoarding is still nearly 100%. 

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