Love Gone Wrongby Nancy Marano
We’ve all seen newspaper stories about people with 70 cats or 40 dogs living in deplorable conditions. Usually we just shake our heads in disbelief that people live in such filth. Dwelling on this cruel, eccentric behavior brings up too many horrible images for the breakfast table.
Recently another such article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. A woman was found dead in her home leaving 35 cats and four dogs behind. My page turning stopped abruptly when I saw the woman’s name. Kathleen Juneau. I knew her from cat shows since she bred and showed Burmese cats. But I never suspected she was an animal hoarder.
It led me to wonder how a person crosses the line from hobby breeder, rescuer, or animal lover to animal hoarder.
The Albuquerque Police Department investigated Juneau’s home and discovered her body amid thousands of empty cat food cans, trash, filth and feces a foot deep on the floor. Seeing cats in cages and four dogs loose in the house, the police notified the Albuquerque Animal Care Center (ACC) to get the animals as part of a hoarding situation.
According to Denise Wilcox, Associate Director of Environmental Health, who is responsible for ACC, “Hoarding cases are handled under the City’s Protective Custody code. Sometimes cases arise from a nuisance abatement complaint about strange odors or rundown property. We usually hold the animals from 15-30 days until the court gives us guidance on releasing them for adoption. This case was unusual because she
left the cats as part of her estate so we worked with the City legal department or Ms. Juneau’s attorney.”
Albuquerque usually has about four hoarding cases a year involving cats, dogs, and even spiders and reptiles.
Juneau’s four dogs were adopted immediately. The cats posed a different problem because of their health, their number and their legal status. Two of the cats died in the shelter, one was euthanized upon arrival and one was under a veterinarian’s care.
“We called Dr. Linda Mercer, President and Rescue Coordinator for Purebred Cat Breed Rescue (PCBR), for help with these cats,” Wilcox said. “Dr. Mercer said PCBR would take them, foster them until adoption and be responsible for transporting them.”
The cats left the shelter on February 13, 2006.
PCBR is an alliance of cat fanciers, rescuers and cat lovers supported by the Cat Fanciers’ Association, The International Cat Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association. It is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that has provided safe havens for over 1,900 cats in the last year.
“PCBR arranged fosters for the cats while they were still being held at the shelter,” Dr. Mercer said. Working with Burmese Rescue and Florida Burmese Rescue, many potential adopters were located for these cats.
“The cats went to ANEW of New Mexico, Dr. Gloria Leapard, a feline specialist in Oklahoma, and Second Chance Rescue in Oklahoma for fostering,” according to Dr. Mercer. “I am elated that PetSmart Charities donated 20 carriers for us to transport these cats to rescue. Other sources provided flea medication and vaccines.”
PCBR receives as many as eight calls a month regarding hoarding or large-scale rescue situations. “Most have a few purebred cats and many non-purebreds, and in those cases we arrange for all the cats to be vetted, spayed or neutered, and get them safely into rescue,” Dr. Mercer said.
When the cats were released from ACC, eleven of them went to ANEW, which has worked with PCBR twice since 2005 on large-scale rescue operations in the Albuquerque area and has been an affiliate member for several years.
“The cats we took will be ready for adoption after they are sterilized. Our veterinarians, Dr. Larsen and Dr. Bolton, checked the cats before releasing them to foster homes,” said Jan Marino, Director of ANEW of NM. “The cats range in age from four to seventeen years old. Most have severe upper respiratory infections, are underweight and have been treated medically for two months. Some have severe dental problems. The medical expenses will be covered by ANEW and PCBR.”
One cat had medical costs of $631.00. “Luna, a six-year-old female, was diagnosed as pregnant when she was brought in. She had a ruptured uterus and needed extensive surgery. She survived, but I believe the breeder bred her for income and had no concern for her health,” Marino explained.
These cats are well socialized and very affectionate with each other and their current care-givers. They will be at ANEW adoption clinics each Saturday and are featured at www.anew.petfinder.org.
Kathleen Juneau’s animals were lucky they were found quickly and turned over to caring agencies that are seeking the best outcome for the cats. This is not typical in most hoarding cases where the animals are in such bad shape they cannot be saved or rehabilitated.
WHO IS A HOARDER?
A distinction needs to be made between a person who has a lot of animals and a person who is an animal hoarder. The distinction comes in how well the animals are cared for. Can the person provide the animals’ veterinary, nutrition and grooming needs while keeping up a clean home environment and their own health and welfare? If so, she is not an animal hoarder.
Until recently little research was available on animal hoarding or its causes. Animal organizations were painfully aware of the problem, though, because they were the people called on to deal with the animals left in these circumstances.
While hoarding is a form of animal abuse, it is a different type of abuse. Animal hoarders start out with good intentions. They love animals and believe they are saving them from certain death at the shelter. Though difficult to believe, some hoarders manage to function normally in society while living a secretive lifestyle at home. This problem crosses demographic and socioeconomic lines, but one central characteristic of hoarders is that they do not see the reality of their situation. Collecting animals, as well as inanimate objects, is central to the hoarder’s identity. Hoarders have no “Off” switch saying, “You have enough animals.”
Animal hoarders, especially those running self-styled shelters or rescues, often gain public sympathy because they can be good communicators. Any confrontation with authorities turns into an “us” vs. “them” situation that makes the shelter look as though it is persecuting an animal rescuer. One of the saddest aspects of animal hoarding is that the basic desire to do a good deed becomes horribly twisted resulting in terrible consequences for the animals and the person.
Gary Patronek, director of Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy, along with several other researchers, started the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) in 1997. Due to HARC’s research, we now realize that animal hoarding is a mental illness not just a lifestyle choice, as was previously thought. There doesn’t seem to be one cause for hoarding although it may be tied to a chaotic childhood. Some hoarders are schizophrenics; others are elderly with various degrees of dementia. Many share characteristics of addictive behaviors, and some researchers believe hoarding is connected to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Handling these situations doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer either. While the first impulse is to confiscate the animals and prosecute the hoarder under anti-cruelty laws, this is not always the most successful route to take. If the animals are confiscated because of the conditions, they must be held at the local animal shelter until the lawsuit is finished, thus putting huge financial and emotional hardship on the shelter. Hoarders often fulfill their court sentence, move to a different area and begin collecting again. The recidivism rate for this disease is almost 100%.
Researchers and social workers believe the best solution is working with hoarders so they gradually relinquish their animals to the local shelter. Hoarders usually view the world as hostile while their home is a safe refuge. Gaining an animal hoarder’s trust is difficult. Routine enforcement of the laws for housing code violations, animal limits, and other applicable laws, as well as documentation of violations should take place during this process. Regular contact and monitoring of the hoarder is necessary to watch for any change in the situation. If warranted, the animals must be removed immediately.
HARC stresses a multidisciplinary approach that includes a broad spectrum of municipal agencies and social service organizations as the most successful approach to the problem.
Animal hoarding is not just a problem for the hoarder and their animals. It is a community problem. The ultimate victims are the animals who pay the price for being kept in horrible conditions. If you suspect someone might be an animal hoarder, report the person to your local animal control so that steps can be taken to investigate before it is too late.
For further information go to: Hoarding.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A HOARDER
An animal hoarder is someone who:
Accumulates a large number of animals.
Cannot provide the minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care for the animals.
Fails to acknowledge the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation, and death) and the household environment (severe overcrowding and very unsanitary conditions).
Fails to recognize the negative effect of the collection on his or her own health.
A Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) study showed:
Three-quarters of hoarders were female.
Nearly half of all hoarders were 60 years of age or older.
Almost three-quarters of the hoarders were single and lived alone.
Cats were involved in 65% of the cases, dogs in 60%, farm animals in 11% and birds in 11%.
An average of 39 animals were involved in each case.
In 80% of the cases, some animals were found dead or in severe condition.
Over half the people had been investigated multiple times for hoarding.
The reasons most often given by hoarders for their behavior include:
A love of animals.
See their animals as surrogate children.
Believe that no one else could care for the animals.
Fear the animals will be euthanized in a shelter.