Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One more way people are strange

We often read of these cases of compulsive animal hoarding, in which people -- women about 70% of the time it appears, often but not always elderly -- are discovered to have houses completely full of sick, starving and even dead animals, walls and floors destroyed by excrement. That's strange for sure, but it isn't rare. the ASPCA says that from 900 to 2,000 cases are discovered each year, involving millions of animals. They don't tell us where they get that info but I'll call it reasonably creditable since they are probably called in to deal with a majority of the cases themselves.

What strikes me as equally strange, given how prevalent this is, that there has been very little scientific study of the behavior. I did a Medline search and I found a recent review (subscription only but you can read the abstract) that says, yep, we don't really know much about this. It appears to be associated with attachment disorder -- personality disorders and isolation from humans are commonly associated with animal hoarding. The hoarders have no insight into their situation. They believe the animals are well cared for and that they are rescuing them from a cruel fate. Sometimes they even pose as legitimate animal rescue operations. In fact, the animals are suffering terribly, but the hoarders just cannot perceive it.

The recidivism rate is apparently close to 100%. The authorities remove the animals, they may have to condemn the house, and then they figure the problem is taken care of. But the person just does it again. Hoarders may be ordered into counseling but counselors generally have no idea how to treat them and it doesn't usually do much good.

It is particularly interesting that the features of this syndrome are so consistent. It points to something essential about us, a need for connection perhaps that takes this unfortunate term when people cannot satisfy it through human relationships. It all seems quite sad. One is tempted to think it may point to a failure of society, but sometimes family members are trying very hard to connect with the person and save them, to no avail.


C. Corax said...

Ah, a subject dear to my heart. I used to do dog rescue in the early 80s. I lasted about 2 years before I was too emotionally burned out to continue. I never adopted any of the dogs I interacted with (this was PC era, so everything was done by interacting with the actual animals). My rescue partners were kind of nuts and I drifted away from them. Sure 'nuff, I came to find out that they ended up collecting, with starving and dead dogs on their property. Sickening.

Here's a good article from the HSUS--warning that it is a pdf:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for bring this issue to our attention.

I'm a researcher for the series Confessions: Animal Hoarding, currently airing on Animal Planet that tells the stories of people overwhelmed by the number of pets they own. The problem is on the rise and affect communities across America.

If you are concerned about the health of animals in someone's care and suspect they may be hoarding them, we might be able to help.

Most animal hoarders don’t see themselves as hoarders, and sometimes don’t intentionally collect animals. Their relationship with their animals has threatened their relationships with friends and family.

Most of these situations aren’t dealt with until they become criminal. This results in animals being euthanized by over-stressed shelters, and doesn’t address the underlying psychological issues - meaning nearly 100% of people end up in the same situation again.

We are dedicated to finding comprehensive long-term solutions and believe therapy to be key to this. We can bring in experts to help people and their pets.

If you or someone you know needs help because animals have overrun their life, visit to learn more and submit their story. Alternatively, contact me directly at or toll-free at
1 -877-698-7387.

We will treat all submissions with confidentiality and respect.