Thursday, November 3, 2011

Animals and Hoarding - Part 2

I find myself wondering if animal hoarding is something that developed in the 20th century. No one could have hoarded animals in the Middle Ages. They could not have afforded to feed the animals. Most people lived in a communal space with relatives who would not have tolerated hoarding. Also, any woman with 200 cats in her hovel would probably been executed as a witch along with the cats.

Why do people hoard animals? Frost and Steketee profile some people who feel that love from animals is purer than that of people. Some do it because they view it as a humanitarian mission. Others feel that they have a psychic bond with animals that draws them to needy animals. Oddly enough:

"One of the most puzzling features of animal hoarding is the lack of recognition of a problem that is way out of control. Many animal hoarders can be standing amid their sick and dying animals, with feces covering the floors and walls, and still insist that nothing is wrong. This type of assertion, in the midst of clear evidence to the contrary, suggests a distorted belief system- a delusional disorder. Delusional disorders are usually highly specific and do not accompany distorted thinking in other area's of the person's life. Perhaps animal hoarding represents a delusional disorder with a special, almost magical connection with animals as the predominant theme." (Stuff, pp. 131-132).

While I am not an expert on hoarding, I wonder if animal hoarding really represents an ability to depersonalize the animal, to turn it into a thing rather than a living animal. Dogs and cats would prefer to be in homes or free in colonies, not stacked into piles of cages. The better animal shelters try to get the animals adopted because they know that a long time in a cage is psychologically destructive for the animals.They also know that large free-ranging packs of animals can become destructive to themselves. Perhaps animal hoarders mentally turn the animals into objects that they can then stack around themselves for protection.

About a year ago, I read an article in an ASPCA publication about how they were working with an animal hoarder. They began by getting him to relinquish a few animals, then analyze how he felt about them being gone. They also worked on cleaning his apartment and getting him pyschological treatment. After reading Stuff, I realized that the ASPCA agents were using a modified version of the decluttering methods further detailed by Frost and Steketee in Buried in Treasure. The ultimate goal by the ASPCA was to get the hoarder down to a few animals and to make sure that he no longer hoarded them in much the same way that treatment of non-animal hoarders hopes to get them down to few possessions and no future build-up.

More from the ASPCA at:  (article on page 8).

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