More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Animal Hoarding
June 29, 2006
by Sandra Kiume,

Psychiatric Times is one of scant few in-depth looks at the mental health issues behind animal hoarding. Once known as animal collecting and commonly stereotyped as the ?crazy cat lady? (cats are most common but many animals are involved) research in recent years still yields no clear cause or diagnosis. Legislation in Illinois defines it with three components:

  • More than the typical number of companion animals
  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling

There are several theoretical psychological models comparing to delusional disorder, early-onset dementia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD symptoms of hoarding possessions does parallel hoarding animals in key areas.

Hoarding of possessions involves three classes of problematic behaviors: acquisition, saving and disorganization? Like people who hoard possessions, animal hoarders often lack insight into the problematic nature of their behavior. A common and peculiar characteristic of people who hoard animals is a persistent and powerful belief that they are providing proper care for their animals, despite clear evidence to the contrary. In some cases, the home environment is so seriously impaired that the house must be torn down (Patronek, 1999). Careful assessment is needed to determine if this reflects a delusional disorder or overvalued ideation in the context of OCD.

Another perspective:

A recently developed cognitive-behavioral model describes compulsive hoarding as a multifaceted problem that stems from several deficits or difficulties (Frost and Hartl, 1996). These include information-processing problems, problems with emotional attachments to possessions and distorted beliefs about possessions. Avoidance of each of these problems leads to the chaos and clutter.

The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) at Tufts is a research group taking an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the problem and looking at solutions. In addition to a web site providing information about health issues, animal welfare, intervention, photos, and more, they?ve just released the proceeding of a forum titled ANIMAL HOARDING: Structuring Interdisciplinary Responses to Help People, Animals, and Communities at Risk (download PDF or order a hard copy from HARC).

Animal hoarding is a complex problem and its study is still in infancy, but as an estimated 250,000 animals a year in the USA are affected in over 5,000 cases a year, developing effective intervention, treatment and prevention is vital.


From what I've read and seen, in these cases, these people are sick and LONELY. They often times have no emotional or familial support. These animals are their families. It's a shame the animals have to suffer. It's an even greater shame these people aren;t identified and helped sooner.--poohbear


I live in a small town~population about 650. I have a neighbor lady who owns almost 20 cats. She is outside at 3 o'clock in the morning calling her cats. They have very original names like "Peanut", "Oreo", "Rusty", and one night she called "Lowell" who is her husband. She is an alcoholic and she doesn't know night from day. My neighbors and I have complained to the city and nothing has been done. Cats and dogs are supposed to be licensed. None of hers are. I feel sorry for the cats. We did elect a new mayor a couple of weeks ago. Maybe something will get done. The police said we can live trap them and take care of them anyway we want to. That just isn't right. I grew up on a farm, and we had lots of cats. But that was different. And in the summer time when the wind is blowing just right, you can smell that ever so refreshing scent of cat. :yuck: Oh yes, that will open your sinuses. The city allows three pets per household. I guess she is making up for people like us that don't have any.
Not all people who have large numbers of animals living with them are "sick" or "lonely", I keep budgies and occasionally other small birds, At one point I had 13 budgies, a tiel, and a canary living me in a flat, all where looked after very well, and my flat was kepted clean and they had good vet care if needed,, I was told at that time that 2 was enough by someone "offical" is that what "typical number" means?? The article David Posted is when it goes very wrong, the extreme end of it all, when it gets "out of control" So If you do see or know someone that has lots of one type of animal I am asking you not to judge them on this article, we are not all the same, I have six budiges now, some have said I should only have one or two, I am also called the "Bird Lady" round here, I have had people gossip about me too about how messy my flat probely is "with all those birds" when Ive found out whose doing the gossiping ,, Ive invited them in and they have had to swallow their words when they have seen how well my budgies are cared for and loved and how clean my flat is, this hasnt happened recently because I think people know better what Im like now!!!
Im am not taking what anyone said personally, just trying to make a point, I too would be the first to be horrified if any animal suffered in any way, and in the past some of my birds have come from just such circumstances as this article talks about.


Through these eyes:

I do believe that the article was only meant to be about hoarders, those "compelled" (sort of) to take these animals in that they obviously can't care for. It is also very obvious (from an outsiders point of view) -- like the neighbor above that has 20 cats and is an alcoholic (hence, probably "sick" and "lonely"), that they can't care for them. It was not in any way directed to those who seem quite capable of caring for themselves and their animals. There are many, many people who own and successfully care for more than the average number of pets. They are not all labeled as "hoarders"-- only those who fall into the description from the article above. It wasn't meant as a criticism. Personally, I only have one dog. But if I had more room and our family didn't have the allergies and asthma problems, I'd love to live on some land with lots of different animals! And I'd hope I wasn't labeled as a "hoarder", either! --Poohbear


this is sad no matter how you put it. the people clearly need help and rarely get it. the animals typically have to be put to sleep as they are too wild/sickly to be put up for adoption. its a no win situation all the way around. It would be nice if officials were willing and able to step in earlier and help everyone who needs it.
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