With this post, I’m going to take a break from talking about the hoarding of things and talk about hoarding animals. Animal hoarding is similar to object hoarding in a few ways, and it is quite different in other ways. Let’s talk about the similarities first. The definition of hoarding fits here, although I understand that there is a group suggesting that animal hoarding have its own diagnosis in the DSM because of the nature of the people who hoard living beings. How does the definition play out? Too many animals brought into a space without getting rid of some animals, not being able to use the rooms in the home for their intended purpose because of too many animals, and the emotional distress and physical impairment caused by having too many animals and humans in a space that doesn’t allow the animals the room they need to be healthy and to move around.
Differences between animal and object hoarding have to do with a couple major issues: mental illness and squalor. Of course, sometimes people who object hoard struggle with mental illness (vs. a mental health diagnosis) and live in squalor, but it’s not an absolute. Many people who object hoard live in “clean” hoards with no bio-hazard materials, just too much stuff. In general, people who hoard animals live in squalor and seem to struggle with mental illness, specifically a difficulty in acknowledging they are not living in reality. A colleague who is a veterinarian told me about a hoarding situation in which a woman kept 17 dogs in her car and believed that she was keeping them safely. She clearly did not have a grasp on reality to think that 17 dogs were being well taken care of in her car.
The thing that is hard to comprehend is that people who hoard animals see themselves, and are seen by others, as animal-lovers. These women and men are the ones that others give their animals to . . . “I’m moving and can’t take my cat with me – will you take him?” Of course! So, we are drawn to these people because it seems they love animals and will take good care of them. But what we know in hoarding situations is that the animals are not well taken care of, the animals suffer, and the conditions they live in are horrendous. It doesn’t make sense and it’s heartbreaking. You don’t need to like animals to appreciate the sadness in how a living being is treated.
Animal hoarding is less understood than object hoarding. There is even less research done on animal hoarding than object hoarding. We have far to go to understand how this situation happens and how to treat animal hoarding. If you have a question regarding an animal or animals that are being mistreated because of hoarding disorder, contact the animal control or sheriff’s office in your city.
Janet Yeats is a marriage and family therapist and writer who specializes in issues of trauma, grief and loss. Janet consults, speaks and writes on hoarding disorder as well as other trauma and loss-related topics. Visit her youtube channel (Janet Yeats) to see videos and webinars on these topics.