Whilst the hoarder themselves may claim to be “animal lovers”, the reality is they keep pets in such numbers that both the quality of life of the animals, themselves and their families and friends, even their neighbours and community are compromised.
This is not to say that the animal hoarder does not care about their animals. All would claim to care deeply for their animals. However, the conditions of life their animals face in crowded conditions, often in circumstances of hunger, inadequate and ill maintained hygiene, complete lack of veterinary care and in blatant disregard to the Domestic Animal Act, designed to protect the interest of animals, as much as humans, demonstrates such individuals have genuine psychological problems.
Life experience that triggers “hoarding behaviours”, are complex and often brought about by tragic circumstances and unresolved grief. This is complex stuff and requires the support of trained medical professionals.
That aside, the reality is the dreadful life the animals the hoarder collects experience, as well as the hoarders willingness to often impoverish their lives, economically, physically and socially in order to keep large numbers of cats or dogs.
Common sense and practicality would limit the number of pets most individuals keep, in either a rural or urban setting. Issues of animal well- being, cleanliness, appropriate housing, time, space, economics and council bylaws provide sufficient regulation to keep animal welfare and the rights of residents to “quiet enjoyment” of their homes in balance.
When such balance is disturbed, as in the case of animal hoarders, the chain of suffering grows. The epicentre is the animals and the hoarder, though they would deny this, extending out to their families and friends, neighbours, local government bodies, animal welfare agencies and inspectors and even law enforcement officers, welfare agencies and their staff.
The denial they have “a problem”, is much like that of an alcoholic, heroin or other substance abuser. All exhibit a destructive addiction. Each of these addictions can have impacts way beyond the individual concerned.
In the case of my Coburg friends, their neighbour was keeping over 40 cats on his property. Few if any had been desexed. The cats were jumping the fence to toilet in neighbouring yards and engaging in nocturnal fights, especially in warmer months. Ill and wounded cats were often to be seen, causing concern for responsible cat owners in the neighbourhood, that this hoard of cats would infect, or injure their animals.
The cats were in poor condition. A distressing sight and experience for anyone who had any regard for animal welfare. The state of the cats, a mirror, reflecting the state of the resident animal hoarder.
Out of compassion for both the cats concerned and their unfortunate neighbour, my friends contacted both Moreland Council and the RSPCA, who conducted inspections and went through the sad process of assessing the situation, intervening and confiscating the majority of the cats.
My friends compared the life of the cat hoard, to those kept responsibly in small numbers, desexed, with adequate food, clean living conditions, regular veterinary care, lots of human attention and not wandering the neighbourhood at night to be hit by cars, or involved in cat fights.
If you live near, or by an animal hoarder you have a responsibility to report that person to the appropriate authorities. Hoarding animals is as big a cry for help as a suicide attempt. It is an alert that compassion is required, not just in relation to the animals involved, but the sad individual, who is sheltering behind their animal hoard, in as poor a human state as are the animals they collect.
I do not envy the job the animal shelter workers and welfare officers must undertake in working with the hoarder to intervene in such circumstances. They are unsung heroes as they set the hoarder and their animals, on a course of rehabilitation, transformed lives and reality.