A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

May 23, 2010

Not Everyone With Too Many Pets is a Hoarder.

Not everyone with too many pets is a hoarder. Recently we have been asked to assist two elderly citizens whose raison d'etre was to care for neighborhood pets but felt they could no longer do so properly. One had almost 200 cats, and one had 30. The greek chorus chanted "hoarder" but in neither case was that so.

A hoarder suffers from an actual disorder where they cannot stop themselves from collecting everything (not just animals) and, most important, are oblivious to the fact that they are failing to care for themselves and the animals. Psychiatric experts are not sure if the condition is a clinical compulsive disorder(OCD), an object displacement problem or an addiction.  The disorder requires constant treatment and support which never happens.They are isolated, delusional and always re-offend after an intervention. As someone who has entered more hoarding dwellings than anyone should ever have to -I know it when I see it - and - when I do not.

The instances I mentioned above are different. In those cases, the desire was to care for animals that nobody wanted, which they did for decades. Funds were expended on food, supplies and veterinary bills to achieve their goals. When they realized that they no longer had the stamina (one was 87, the other 79) and the income to do so properly, they called for help. Managing large, unstable populations requires numerous trips to the veterinarian (sterilizations, medical treatments etc), constant cleaning, managing squabbles and relentless vigilance. In both cases, they were quite successful and the animals were in good condition. Recognizing they were finding it difficult to continue, and with the support of their families they made the decision to "retire" rather than allow the quality of care to decline. The ability to realize that, and to believe that someone else is capable of loving those pets is what differentiates them from the basic hoarder.

However, we can all help people like this, help identify and stop hoarders who are harming animals, and  help each other build better communities by doing a few simple things. Do not dump animals that are yours or that you find on these rescuers in your neighborhoods as you do not know if they are hoarders or not. It is not only illegal to do so in California but it is the lazy course of action as it is often easier than going to a legitimate animal shelter. If you are aware of someone who you suspect might be a hoarder or is simply becoming overwhelmed - call your spca or adult protective services and ask that the situation be assessed. It is in the best interests of us all to do so. The person can be helped, the animals can be placed,  and the neighborhood can be spared the consequences of an out of control animal problem such as insects, rodents, stench, diseases (both zoonotic and to other pets), as well as the heartbreak of letting a fellow citizen down.

It can be done - let's make it so.


  1. I saved 3 kittens from the streets, and I allready had 1 cat. Having 4 overwhelms me sometimes, but they allways have clean poo-poo litter, food, and shots, and love.. I need to find homes!! 3 black mediumhair kittens 9 weeks! look me up!

  2. Great points. We don't even have a shelter in our rural location and anyone trying to assist the abandoned animals in our community is labeled a "hoarder". I wish more people would pitch in and help, rather than point fingers.