Animal hoarders need help
Dear Dr. Abbie: We have an elderly couple in our neighborhood that is really scary. Their house is overgrown with bushes and overflows with trash. Cats jump in and out of the windows. Over the years it seems like they gotten more and more cats. The house is starting to smell really bad. The kids are afraid to ride their bikes near the place. This past week there were more kittens again and they all have junk coming out of their eyes. I don’t want to report them, but I don’t know what to do. Can you give me some advice? – Sally
Dear Sally: It sounds like your elderly neighbors may be suffering from a poorly understood psychiatric condition known as animal hoarding. People who are suffering from this condition have a compulsive need to “save” animals, and they think they are providing the best of care. Sadly, they are not able to see the situation for what it truly is. They need help and so do the cats. Unfortunately, people that suffer from this condition feel that they are the only ones who can help the cats and are very distrustful of anyone who tries to help.
You should probably not try to help on your own. Animal hoarders do not usually accept help quietly. Just like many other types of psychiatric conditions from addiction to schizophrenia, the people suffering are unable to see the problem and its ramifications on everyone else. (I include cats in ‘everyone.’)
These situations require help from multiple agencies such as Elder Care. Often the Fire Department is needed because the home is usually unsafe. It is ok to contact Animal Control. You cannot solve this problem by yourself, but you can contribute help in many ways. You can contribute financially to the organizations that are working to help remove the animals, or to the foster care organizations. You can offer to provide foster care to an animal in need. Offer to make phone calls or send out e-mails. These situations take an incredible amount of time and money from many people.
When I had my equine practice many years ago there was a woman with too many horses. She had about twenty including a stallion she used for breeding. She was on disability, so her income was about $15,000 per year. Considering that a single horse costs that much per year to keep there was no possible way for her to care for that many horses. Although they ate the boards of the fences down until they fell from the posts, died from vaccine preventable encephalitis and parasites, and had foals born too weak to stand and nurse, she was convinced her stallion had the best breeding and threw the handsomest colts. I was on the board of the local humane society at the time and they asked me to help the day the horses were taken. After that she tore up my cards in the feed store, and spent a great deal of energy bad mouthing me around town. She never got the help she needed, but some of the horses were saved.
People like this need help, for themselves and the animals that fall prey to them. It is important to keep your ear plugs in and just rally to the help of the animals. They have no voice. Most of the animals rescued from these situations go on to get adopted into loving homes, so it is important to keep in mind that the sooner the intervention the better the outcome. – Dr. Abbie