But I find myself wondering... how many reported hoarding situations are actually the result of a mental illness and how many are the result of a truly compassionate person who is incapable of turning an animal away? Then of course, they get in over their heads, are afraid to ask for help, and things spiral out of control until animal control shows up and starts taking animals out in carriers and crates. THAT is the situation that I am addressing here.
Because I can see how it could happen. The need to give all of the homeless and unwanted animals a place to live, a chance at life, is HUGE, and is never, or at least for the forseeable future, going to be completely satisfied. There are always going to be people who can't take care of their pets any longer, for good reasons or bad, and there is always going to be pressure on an animal lover to DO SOMETHING about it.
How many messages do we see, on the Web, on signs, at the local shelter, letting us know either point-blank or by insinuation that if a particular animal doesn't get a home within three days that they are going to be killed? What is the animal lover supposed to do?
In my own life, I see at least three of these messages a day. And on extra-special days, I have friends directly query me on whether I can take their cat or their friend's cat in. (I am not saying that any of these people are doing anything wrong at all. The responsibility is on ME to say no. But I think that is where some animal lovers fall down.)
To prevent a "hoarding" situation in my own home, allowing it to get to the point that I am unable to clean up after everyone on a daily basis, or getting to the point that I am unable to feed everyone nutritious food, I have had to learn to say "NO." Even if I knew that the animal was probably going to die because of it. Even if I cried myself to sleep about it, and felt guilty about it for
For me, the City of Pittsburgh made it easy. The ordinance is that no home can have more than five animals in it. Yes, it would be easy to circumvent that rule; no one would ever need to know. But I have a fear that it would start the spiral downward. First, I would have secret animals in the house. That means that if I'm truly worried that I'll be reported, I stop inviting people over, and retreat into my own shell. I think that is where it would start. But when you're over the invisible line, I think it is easier to say, "Well, we're already over, what's one more?" So for me, five animals is the limit. For some, even having five animals is unthinkable. For some, who have a totally different living situation from me, they can handle far more than five. And I think all of that is OK, as long as each individual knows his or her limits.
An animal lover, though, needs to be on guard. We need to think really long and hard before adding any "newbies" to our household. We need to think about available resources. How much attention we're able to pay to each animal. Whether anyone is going to be neglected. Whether there is time in the day to scoop everybody's litter, fill everybody's food, give everybody's medicine.
And I really wish that we would get over our obsession with hoarders, putting them on t.v., showing them on the news, making fun of them, shaking our heads and feeling superior to them. Hoarders are in the situation that they're in at least in part because they've retreated from the world. I can't see where dragging them out into the light and mocking them on national television is possibly going to help them in any way.
I also wish that there were more resources to help "hoarders." One of the most commonly quoted reasons for why someone had too many animals is that they were afraid that the authorities would kill them all. And... that fear is actually pretty well-founded. I am sure that a lot of animals that are found in true hoarding situations are in bad enough shape that a quick and merciful death is truly the best route. But I'm not so sure about many of them. I've seen footage of some animals being taken out of homes. To me, they don't look like they've been starved. Most of the time, the cats look like they have respiratory infections. Which can be cleared up with the proper environment and medications. I don't blame animal control for choosing to euthanize instead of rehabilitate. Rehabilitation is expensive. Which is where the wish for more resources comes in. If there were more homes available to temporarily foster some of these babies, then shelters wouldn't be filled to bursting after a single raid. I believe that some of these so-called hoarders would be much more willing to work with the authorities to rehome their animals if they thought that a genuine attempt to rehome was going to be made, and that the threat of the death of their furry loved ones wasn't constantly a factor hanging over their heads.
I don't know, maybe I'm full of crap. Maybe those of you who actually work in shelters will tell me that the animals that come in from these situations are always in terrible shape. But I do know that I wince when I hear about a raid on a hoarder. Yes, in sympathy for the animals, of course. I have seen pictures of some that were in truly deplorable condition. But there's also a part of me that winces in sympathy for the hoarder. Whether they're a true hoarder with a mental illness, or just an animal lover who couldn't say no, I feel horrible for them. I can't imagine how it must feel to have all of your animals taken away from you, to who knows what fate.