Animal hoarding and other abnormal human behaviour

Animal hoarding , according to wiki, is the official term describing the abnormal human behaviour of keeping many animals while being unable to properly care for them. Rather than being deliberate cruelty toward animals, it’s more of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The wiki entry also provides a lot of excellent information on this condition, and sources on how to recognise it and address it legally.

I have decided that my neighbour down the road, J-C, is not exactly an animal hoarder. Now that the weather has become milder, I walk to school in the morning with my younger son instead of having him take the bus. I’ve known J-C for 9 years now, and he is getting close to 60 now. When I moved here, he had a small herd of cattle, a few Percheron horses, some sheep and goats, rabbits, cats, and a fairly large flock of poultry and geese, none of which are ever “retired”. Over those 9 years, he’s called on my vet services at various times, and 3 out of 4 visits were to administer a remedy to a dying animal with a mystery ailment. If he had the money to investigate, we’d likely have found a combination of high egg counts in the feces (intestinal parasites), borderline nutritional deficiencies, and pneumonia or some other opportunistic organ disease that came in to finish off the poor creature. But in general, J-C means well, his animals are always fed more or less appropriately, occasionnally dewormed; they always have access to water, and social contact (maybe too much) with other animals. There is no deliberate cruelty here, in fact, there is certainly much less than what exists in the industrial system that nearly all of us participate in, in some way.

I’ve assisted one police raid in a situation where there was definite criminal neglect, and prepared the report that resulted in a conviction and confiscation. J-C is most certainly not in that category. He is also nothing like the animal hoarder I once knew. That was a woman who had over 70 dogs and was in the process of transferring them, a few at a time, from this rural area to an even more remote region in another province. During one of her trips, she had a fatal car accident. The dogs were discovered a few days later and the case made national news fleetingly as one of those spectacular cases of neglect and squalor. She was fleeing a legal process that would have removed the dogs from her property; this had happened to her before, but she just started over from scratch, as it were. Hers was a classic case of animal hoarding, because she firmly believed she was doing what was best for the animals, in spite of the graphic and smelly evidence. She had even been known to spend several hundreds of dollars on specialised vet care for dogs with conditions such as von Willebrand disease. One time, a few months before her accident, I had to convince her that the dog she brought in was on death’s doorstep, that no, I would not take X-rays or take a blood sample, and that it was more than likely her dog had parvovirus. The dog died a minute or so after I convinced her to sign the authorisation; I had just begun to fill the syringe with euthansol. I was shaken by the experience, because she was genuinely pissed off at me for not using the veterinary diagnostics at my disposal: I was unfeeling and incompetent like most vets. She did not even sound unhinged, her assessments were almost rational.

Back to my morning walk and J-C. I think I would classify him as an animal collector rather than a hoarder. Over the past few years, he has quietly reduced his herd of ruminants and workhorses, and with the participation of his new girlfriend he’s building up a collection of dogs. He’s always had a few dogs in and around the house and farm, but he seems to be going into full-dog mode lately. Besides the old-timers Mickey (a squat black dog who must be 13 by now), Belle (a boxer), Moustique (the unfortunate brother of my Principessa), Moose (a husky), and one unnamed German shepherd, in the past few weeks at various times I’ve met or seen:
– one or two beagles (not sure – one of them wears a bow, maybe it’s the same one)
– one pug
– one Esquimau-like dog
– one bulldog
– one small lab cross, possibly cocker-Lab?
– one small terrier
– one Saint-Bernard
– one Malamute

Most of them are running free around the yard, a few in the barn and some are in the house, I’m sure. The large ones are tethered. The four gigantic inflatable Christmas ornaments lie deflated in the snow; they probably met with enthusiatic dog claws at some point just before Christmas.

I’m rather worried about where these animals are coming from. For one thing, with the recession, I’m not seeing breeders at the clinic very often anymore for vaccines. Demand is obviously down, and J-C has a big heart for unwanted animals, in his own way at least, and he is known to never refuse an animal offered to him casually – partly because he knows where it will go if he doesn’t.

J-C’s presence has always left me with a dilemma. His behaviour is not (yet) reportable, but I get a sense that I should be doing something – but what? He needs dewormers, for starters. I suppose I should get on that, as a small gesture of veterinary goodwill. On the other hand, would that constitute enabling, wouldn’t it?

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22 Comments on “Animal hoarding and other abnormal human behaviour”

  1. skdadl Says:

    You’re partly thinking that we’re all in this together, except most people haven’t yet recognized that, yes/no, brebis noire? By that I mean you’re thinking that so many of the animals are in trouble that sometimes the hoarders and collectors don’t look quite so crazy when you turn to look at the oblivious consumers?

    Maybe that’s why someone like J-C makes you hesitate. What would happen to his animals without him? We live in a society that can’t answer that question very well, as you know.

    Aging is sometimes a factor too. Years ago, I thought of caring for cats as easy and next to trouble-free; now it feels more and more like hard work, and that worries me at 4 a.m. every day. It’s very easy to see how the wheels can come off fairly quickly for an aging collector.

    But if not me, then who?

  2. brebisnoire Says:

    You’ve put a finger on it, that’s for sure. While I think that animal hoarders are usually rightly described as obsessive-compulsive and operating within an altered perception of reality, the “collectors” are operating at all different levels. I could conceivably be considered a collector myself, though I’d never have so many animals if I were a) in the city and b) didn’t have kids. And I do have firm limits, though it does require a certain callousness, unfortunately.

    Not to say that it can’t be done in the city, but in all circs, it’s an awful lot of work to keep the squalor at bay and pay the bills. The wheels can come off at any time for most people. All it takes is illness, a family crisis, disability, job loss, etc. Sometimes just an unfortunate chain of events, but it’s good to have some kind of a backup system just in case.


  3. It’s a tough one all right. Where you set the limits on what you can offer re deworming or whatever I think depends on your own sense of limits, and it sounds from your posts as though you have good sense, rather than a consideration of whether you’re enabling him. Enabling I would think would be more relevant to a situation where you were getting him out of some trouble that would otherwise require him to reduce, or not enhance, his collection. In this case though you would just be offering to do something that would make his animals healthier.

  4. gia Says:

    he sounds a bit more like an “overwhelmed caretaker”, rather than a hoarder, but given his age and money being tight things could begin to deterioate. What is the condition of his property overall? If animal control cannot of is unwilling to work with him on health care / control for the animals you could consider another agency. Some communities have begun creating Hoarding Task Forces, were several agencies work together towards a solution e.g. elder care, code complience, health dept and the like.

    There is a fine line between helping the animals and enabling – it’s really only an answer you can decide.

    I recently helped an animal/trash hoarder (there was much more to the story) and it haunted me for a good month. I don’t regret it, but it certainly took the wind out of my sails for a bit.

    Good luck

  5. deBeauxOs Says:

    Your blog precipitated a discussion between my travelling companion and me. We have a mutual acquaintance who has rescued 2 dogs, 6 cats & 3 rats over the years. My friend has gone into her home to help her with a painting job and has found the litter boxes brimming full, empty water bowls and bags of dry food strewn throughout the house. We both find this quite distressful as we’re not sure how to approach her with our concerns.

    BTW, it’s not an age thing – she’s close to 50 but not yet there.

  6. hemmingforddogblog Says:

    My enabling question came with my chocolate lab. She was purchased from a ‘backyard breeder’ and returned after 2 months. The man that purchased her had good intentions. He paid for all her shots and had a microchip implanted! (Turns out that the two teenagers lost interest and nobody trained the dog.) After I adopted her, I went into the local vet and the receptionists first comment was, “Oh, she finally got rid of that dog!” Seems I was the last one offered a ‘free dog’.

    All this to say, was I enabling a backyard breeder? I love my crazy dog, but I had a problem justifying this, until someone told me that my dog probably would have ended up at a puppy mill somewhere. She was just 5 months old when I got her. (She has since been fixed – no puppies!) So this is how I ‘justify’ taking a dog from a backyard breeder. (No money ever changed hands.) Am I an enabler?

  7. Mike Says:

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    _________________________________
    Making Money $150 An Hour

  8. mouthyorange Says:

    There’s the identical ‘Mike says’ thing at JJ’s.

  9. brebis noire Says:

    Huh. I guess that’s not “Mike”, the regular commenter from JJ’s place. Regular Mike has better grammar. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. brebis noire Says:

    hemmingford, I sure wouldn’t call that enabling, especially as you didn’t even know the situation beforehand. I’d call that love and rescue. And I’m sure the cats approve, which is always a good test (cats don’t approve of enabling).

    The problem is that with necessary control of medications and of veterinary practice, veterinarians can easily become enablers of the breeding industry to different degrees. As time goes by, graduating vets are coming out with different approaches and viewpoints on practice, with much confusion to come, particularly with a deteriorating economy. Standards and ideals versus economic reality, in other words.

  11. brebisnoire Says:

    deBeauxOs, I wouldn’t worry too much about overflowing litterboxes. I’ve seen that in homes with one or two cats, and it’s all about tolerance levels (both cat and human tolerance). As for the rest, maybe she caught her at one of those moments when things momentarily fall apart. Maybe. Keeping animals is a surprising amount of work, and with several animals, things fall apart that much more quickly. With that many cats, it can literally take less than 24 hours.

    gia, you have a very difficult but necessary website there. I get a sense that things are falling apart for many animal keepers very quickly in the United States. Even during good times there is suffering, so when the bad times hit, there’s a potential for so many more incidents. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
    Where I live, there is very little in terms of community or agency support, due to low population density. We only recently got a SPA, which is already proving to be a big help with lost and abandoned dogs.

  12. brebisnoire Says:

    Lilian – thanks for that. I decided to call and see if they needed dewormers, I did that yesterday, and learend they’d already obtained them somehow – probably from a breeder. I’m quite relieved about that, though there are other issues that will surely arise.

  13. Beijing York Says:

    Not to derail the comments but you have been โ€œFickiedโ€ at Stageleft:

    http://www.stageleft.info/2009/03/14/who-are-we-the-birth-of-the-ficki/#comment-141980

  14. Kirsten Says:

    what is the difference between an animal hoarder and an animal collector?

  15. brebis noire Says:

    That’s a good question Kirsten – I’ve read some sources that consider animals hoarding and collecting to be the same thing, but animal hoarding is definitely a mental illness, an altered perception of reality. For example, the animal hoarders I’ve seen (maybe 2 or 3 people in my life so far) have their animals living in intense squalor, overcrowding and often lacking water and food. And as to what drives them to hoard animals, I suppose that can be explained in different ways, depending on who is doing the explaining. The woman I mention in this post believed that she was rescuing animals, but from the conditions she kept them in, you have to wonder what she was rescuing them from…

    Animal collecting, in my view, covers a broader range of people who are not mentally ill, but who have different numbers of animals; some people would consider that they have more than what is reasonable. And some might consider that they are living in a certain degree of squalor. But in my view, the animals are in a vastly better position with collectors than with hoarders, because they are not deprived of basic needs, and very often they have excellent living conditions indeed.

    But that’s just my way of differentiating them, based on experience and a kind of clinical judgement.

  16. brebis noire Says:

    Ha – sparqui, it took me a second to figure out who was who, but once I did, it all fell into place and of course I am proud to be the rescuer of diva cats.


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