Sometimes, a love for animals becomes something else – something unintended.
Extreme cases of animal hoarding can be as sad as they are shocking.
Scott McCall, one of the veterinarians at the Pet Hospital of Granbury, said the problem used to be referred to as “collecting,” and hoarders were called “animal collectors.” However, he said, that terminology “sugar-coats” the issue.
“The result is more akin to a concentration camp than a cute collection of inanimate objects” such as dolls or baseball cards that might be collected, he said.
“In my opinion animal hoarding is the result of psychological disease in the well meaning people who hoard,” McCall said. “The effects of it are severe suffering and disease in the animals they are trying to ‘save’ or ‘rescue.’”
Sergeant Kelly McNab has already had to deal with several cases of animal hoarding since joining Hood County Animal Control in December 2012.
She said that hoarding situations can lead to health problems such as hair loss or mange, fleas, internal parasites, ringworms, overgrown nails and respiratory infections. There can also be social issues with both dogs and cats, if they develop with a “pack” mentality, she said. Restoration of normal socialization skills can be difficult but can be restored. The younger the animal, the easier the process.
And for the people living in such conditions, it can lead to poor air quality and hygiene issues.
In November, Animal Control found 26 dogs living in a mobile home. Most were Chihuahua mixes, plus a few Yorkie mixes, all inside the house.
McNab said that the dogs’ feet had never touched the ground because they had been inside the home “for as long as they had been alive.”
First contact was made after the pet owner called to make an appointment to have two older dogs euthanized, McNab said.
“Later she called back and said she couldn’t go through with it. She said she was an animal hoarder. She made the comment that she didn’t want to be a hoarder,” McNab said, noting that she could hear that the woman was crying. “It got out of hand. She’s such a nice lady. She agreed to surrender 21 of the dogs to us.”
McNab said that rescue or permanent homes have been found for all but one.
Another local woman had 23 cats – all inside a mobile home.
“Most were spayed and neutered, but a couple weren’t,” said McNab, who was named sergeant at Animal Control in February 2013. “We were able to go in, and we got all of them into rescues except one. She kept one. It just had gotten out of control. It was like she was waiting for that outreach. When I showed up, you could see the relief. She loved her cats.”
In that instance, as with many animal hoarding situations, the air quality inside the home was poor because of the buildup of feces and urine.
Another local hoarding case involved 31 dogs, although many of them stayed outside. Although there were makeshift homemade kennels for some of the dogs, McNab discovered there were also some disturbing things going on – such as two dogs tied to door knobs.
Because these animal owners agreed to sign over at least part of their endangered animals to the care of Animal Control, there were no criminal charges filed.
“If they hadn’t cooperated with me, I would have had an investigator pursue it,” McNab noted, before stating that her goal as Animal Control sergeant is to ensure that animals in those situations aren’t suffering or being abused.
If the animals are in danger because of a hoarding situation and the owner won’t cooperate, other action may be needed. That could include getting a warrant to seize the animals, or possibly an arrest if criminal animal cruelty charges have to be filed. An investigator would decide whether to pursue the case as animal cruelty, according to McNab.
“My No. 1 concern is the welfare of the animals, but at the same time you have to think about the welfare of the humans because the animals are such a huge part of our life,” she said. “I love them, and I just want the best for them. Contact Animal Control (817-573-4277) and we can give you a list of resources, including low-cost spay and neuter and a pet food bank. We want to help them.”
She also made it clear that simply having multiple pets is not hoarding as long as they are cared for properly.
“Let’s get it down to a number that’s manageable,” McNab said of those who find themselves over their head in fur. “We work with a variety of rescue groups, and we try to place them.”
‘WORSE THAN DEATH’
The website for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states that animal hoarding is “a complex public health and community issue” and that its far-reaching effects “encompass mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns.”
Animal hoarders can “appear intelligent and believe they are helping their animals,” the ASPCA said.
Also on that website, ASPCA Senior Vice President, Dr. Randall Lockwood, stated, “Being kept by a hoarder is a slow kind of death for the animal. Actually, it can be a fate worse than death.”
McCall noted that everyone who has animals “has a limit” on how many they can care for. Hoarders exceed that limit “to the point that the animals in their care are severely malnourished, diseased and infested – often times resulting in death by starvation. In the worst cases, the animals and even people in the house can succumb to ammonia poisoning due to the high levels of urine and feces that can accumulate. Cannibalism of one animal on another can also result.”
On its website, the ASPCA states that there are as many as 2,000 new hoarding cases every year in the U.S.
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