Hoarding has become a very popular subject in today's society - especially in the realm of reality TV, it would seem. A couple of months ago, I was vacantly channel surfing, and I came across TLC's show "Hoarding: Buried Alive." The whole premise of the show is that hoarding is a mental illness and that the people depicted need intervention to live normal lives. While I think there is a whole area to be explored here (what is mental illness? if it's not hurting anyone, why should people interfere? whose business is it?) - I want to talk about animal hoarding.
I am very bothered when the government tries to intervene and set limits on how many animals a person can own. I have read of state and local laws limiting owners to a certain amount of pets. In the big city adjacent to our small town, there are laws about how many dogs one can own. This invasion of personal freedoms is infuriating, but that is not the topic of my post.
My question is this: what is the definition of true animal hoarding? When should outsiders get involved?
When asking this question, my mind automatically goes to Ms Spencer. Ms Spencer is a single lady that lives with her mother. She takes in cats and kittens as "fosters." None of us know exactly how many cats and kittens she has, but we can always tell she has been in the clinic because of the pungent odor associated with her, her clothing, her cat carriers, and her cats. It is the overwhelming reek of cat urine.
We see Ms Spencer at least 1-2 times a month with an ill cat. The last one to visit us I diagnosed with FIP - a fatal disease associated with high density cat populations (catteries). Ms Spencer is loathe to euthanize any cat and will do whatever is financially necessary to provide medical care for them. She is also well-read on subjects of cat health and knew that FIP is uniformly fatal. We did euthanize that cat.
Prior to that, she brought in a cat that she had very recently agreed to foster. The cat had a pyometra, because it was not yet spayed. She paid for surgery to spay the cat, as well as the long and expensive aftercare, as the cat developed complications and eventually died. Before that cat, it was a cat with severe neurological signs, seizures, obtundation, and an unknown diagnosis. She treated that cat for 6 days in the hospital (spending over $2000) before the cat started to recover (we suspect toxoplasmosis).
The point is, Ms Spencer will do whatever is necessary to care for these cats. They are not sick, they are not emaciated, they are all vaccinated, tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, and they are free of ectoparasites such as fleas. She takes good care of them. Whenever she brings them to us for care, her trust in us is implicit, and she does whatever we recommend. She is the ideal client. She herself is a frail, tiny woman.
We suspect that she has at least 30+ cats based on how many we've seen. No one knows for sure, and she is not forthcoming with that information (none of us have ever asked, though). Now, would you call her a hoarder? Should someone intervene? She has the financial resources to care for the cats, they are well cared for and adopted out eventually. My contention is that she is a model owner, doing good deeds for these cats that would otherwise be euthanized, and that she should be left in peace to continue her cat good deeds. Others would argue that she has a mental illness and that someone should intervene.
I find that thought funny given some of the horrible things I see "non-hoarder" owners do - not vaccinating their pets, not spaying/neutering, and breeding dogs that are 10+ years old, to name a few. No one argues that those pets should be taken away from the owners, yet they are far, far less well-cared for than Ms Spencers million cats.
So, what do ya'll think. What is hoarding to you?
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