Animal hoarding is a human behaviour that involves the keeping of higher than typical numbers of animals as pets without having the ability to properly house or care for them, while at the same time denying this inability [1].

Hoarding produces a wealth of problems. For instance, harbouring large numbers of animals in a private home, may lead the animals to become feral. As a result, the hoarder's home often becomes infested with both live and dead animals to the extent that, because of feces, parasites and odors, the home is condemned by local authorities. When such homes are discovered and raided by police or animal control, colonies in excess of one hundred animals are not uncommon.

The psychological conditions leading to hoarding are complex, and often the hoarder feels persecuted for doing what he or she believes is a humane endeavor to provide a home to stray animals. Along with other compulsive hoarding behaviours, it is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder [2].

Randall Lockwood, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States who has published articles on the animal collector syndrome, believes that although the pattern has been studied as a pathology for only about a decade, such people have probably always been around. According to Lockwood and animal behavior expert Dennis Fetko, collectors may profess a love for their animals, but are apparently more interested in maintaining control over them than alleviating the suffering brought about by overcrowding and neglect. In fact, say Lockwood and Fetko, the suffering often goes unrecognized by these individuals.

Probably because they are in profound denial that any problem exists, collectors convicted of cruelty and sentenced to counseling are uncooperative in the extreme. Unless they are jailed or closely watched, they are almost certainly emotionally incapable and unwilling to obey court orders to not keep animals for prescribed lengths of time. Recidivism rates are known to be high, with approximately 80 percent of offenders repeating their collecting behavior.

Additional characteristics of the collector personality are:

  • Living in clutter. A need not only to have too many animals, but to have an excessive quantity of inanimate objects as well;
  • Denial that there is anything wrong with a visibly sick animal, with filth and odor, or with cramming dogs and cats in small cages for extended periods without exercise;
  • Belief that only they can care for or cure their animals' illnesses with secret or unorthodox treatments.
  • Refusal to release any animals, even when good homes are found, or when terminally ill or injured animals are suffering and require euthanasia;
  • Secretive home behavior. Although the collector may present a personable facade and appear outwardly normal, rarely will any friend or acquaintance be permitted to visit his or her residence;

In a fact sheet entitled "Collectors: Kindness Gone Awry," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asks that those aware of possible collectors alert humane officials to neglect or abuse, even if the owner seems well intentioned. Since some shelters may actually be run by collectors the organization recommends that individuals investigate carefully before turning an animal over to a humane group or "rescuer," and "accept no excuses for not being allowed inside." A cluttered, dirty, overcrowded environment is not one to which to release any animal.

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