10 Signs of Cat Hoarding
Spot the signs of cat hoarding to find cats in need of help.
Janiss Garza |
Updated: September 25, 2013, 12 p.m. EDT
According to the ASPCA's Animal Hoarding FAQ, there are between 900 and 2,000 new animal hoarding cases every year. A large number of these involve cats. But before you start pointing fingers at that little old lady who feeds all the neighborhood strays, know what hoarding really is — and isn't.
#1: Do the cats have a good quality of life?
#4: Do you see piles of feces or vomit on the floor?
#9: Have other areas of the owner's life suffered neglect?
Hear about Animal Planet's show "Confessions: Animal Hoarding" >>
"There's this image of the sweet little old cat lady as an animal hoarder and the reality is much, much more bleak and really much more serious," says Allison Cardona, director of the ASPCA's Cruelty Advocacy Intervention Program. "It's a public heath issue, it's a mental health issue."
Find out more about ASPCA's Animal Hoarding pages >>
A hoarder can be young, old, male or female. A hoarder can even be a former celebrity. Tragically, hoarding even happens at supposed cat sanctuaries. Hoarding is not merely a case of an animal lover "getting in over his or her head" or "caring too much." It is a highly complex mental illness with a 100% recidivism rate unless the hoarder gets psychological help.
Learn about Tuft's Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium >>
There is a big difference between a hoarder and someone who owns or cares for a large number of cats. To determine what is going on in a multicat situation where you suspect hoarding, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do these cats have quality of life? Are they getting sufficient food and water?
2. Are they getting proper veterinary care, or do you see many injured, ill or emaciated cats?
3. Are these cats spayed and neutered? Is the caretaker actively working toward getting them all fixed? Or are cats having kittens with no attempt at spaying?
4. Is the home or facility basically clean, or do you see piles of feces and vomit on the floor or on furniture?
5. How does it smell? A temporarily dirty litter box — recently used and not yet scooped — is one thing, but are you gasping at the ammonia-like stench?
6. Are these cats being properly socialized, or are most of them unfriendly and wild?
7. If the animals are suffering, is the caretaker in denial about it, or making excuses for their condition, or the condition of their home or facility?
8. Does the caretaker avoid having friends or family over? Have they already received a visit from health officials?
9. Does the caretaker neglect his or her own health and appearance in addition to the animals? Have their power or other utilities been turned off because they couldn't afford to pay the bills?
10. If it is a sanctuary, do they adopt out their animals, or do they refuse to find homes for them and make excuses to keep them themselves?
A good caretaker:
Anything less than this indicates a situation that either is slipping into a hoarding situation or already there. This diagram from the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium is a helpful gauge to determine the severity of the situation.
- Makes sure all cats are well fed and getting at least basic veterinary care (including spaying and neutering).
- Promptly cleans up any messes and creates a happy home atmosphere, even if it's a little threadbare or scratched up.
- A sanctuary should also have enough volunteers to socialize their animals and have an active adoption program.
If you suspect that someone you know is beginning to lose control as a caretaker, the best thing you can do at first is to talk to the person yourself and offer help. Be prepared with information on low cost spay, neuter and veterinary services in your community. Suggest solutions to the problems that you see happening. Approach them with empathy and reassurance, not accusations, and enlist the hoarder's friends and family to help ... but don't be surprised if your overtures are rebuffed.
"There's definitely a lot of denial," says Cardona. "We go into cases and see urine and feces on the floor, a house in shambles and the animals are really not looking good, and the person may say to us, 'Everything looks fine. I love my animals.'" People who are in over their heads will welcome help; hoarders believe they are the only ones capable of caring for their pets - even when the evidence is clearly the opposite. They are also scared of losing their animals - and sadly, this is very often what must happen, for the animals' safety, the person's safety, and the community's safety.
The ASPCA's New York City-based Cruelty Advocacy Intervention (CIA) program has recently begun a different approach: they go into hoarding situations before they hit a crisis level and work with the individual directly to create solutions. "When there are pets involved, there are going to be people involved as well," Cardona points out, so the CIA program includes a social worker and a caseworker on staff. Through offering to help the animals first, the program eventually convinces hoarders to accept human services, including counseling. The CIA program has had a lot of success - since it started in 2010, it has helped 4,000 animals and their caretakers.
The ASPCA hopes the Cruelty Advocacy Intervention program will serve as a model for other cities, because hoarding is as much a human problem as it is an animal problem. But until other cities can establish similar programs, says Cardona, "It's really important to report it to animal services or to the public health department or city officials so that early intervention can happen, and the animals can get the help they need, and then the people can get the help they need." Hoarding never resolves on its own, and if the hoarder refuses help for their animals, or mental health services for themselves, it is time to make those difficult calls. Otherwise, even more animals' lives will be endangered and the hoarder's downward spiral will continue.
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10 Signs of Cat Hoarding