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?