Animal Hoarding

Like “Fatal Attractions”, “Animal Hoarding” is one of those programs on Animal Planet you watch so that you can say, “At least I’m not that bad”.  It’s a bit like slowing down at the scene of a traffic accident to see if you can see any dead bodies on the road.  You don’t want to, you know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. 

Disclaimer:  At the height of my animal ownership I had four dogs and two cats.  I began to sense that I had a certain kinship with these people, and I had to apply the brakes.  I’m now down to two dogs and one cat.  Due to attrition so to speak.  I am not in the same league with these people, however. 

One of the things animal hoarders seem to have in common is the inability to tell you how many animals they have.  That’s the first thing that separates me.  I can’t imagine not knowing where all your animals are and what they’re doing at any one given moment.  Another thing they have in common is the gradual recognition (way too late) that they have crossed a line somewhere.  That instead of “saving” the animals, they have become the very sort of people they hate.  But they don’t know how to get out of it, and how to stop. 

Each episode of Animal Hoarding tells two stories.  One last night was about a guy “Peter” who kept chickens in his house.  Roosters, mostly.  The scene at his house was like bedlam.  The crowing alone was deafening.  And although it wasn’t shown, I suspect there were lots of fights.  (Me:  Chickens?  In the house?  At least I’m not that bad.)  He did not want to give any of them up, for fear they would be killed.  Especially the roosters.  It turns out there are rescue groups, even for chickens.  The one in this episode was called “Backyard Chickens”.  Who knew? 

The other story was about a woman named “Kitten”, which just seems like a cruel joke, because her problem was cat hoarding.  Like “Peter”, she couldn’t tell you how many cats she had.  When asked, both of them said things like “Around 60–maybe 70”.  Well Kitten had a lot fewer cats than she thought she had, because some of them were dead and she didn’t even know it. 

They eventually brought in a team to take away her cats.  The team came in wearing coveralls and respirator masks and carrying shovels.  They literally shoveled out her house, and in the process they moved out all the furniture.  Under one piece of furniture, which looked like a chest of drawers or something similar, they found a live possum.  I guess cat food must be tasty to possums.  Who knew? 

It may seem that I’m making light of this, but I’m not.  Animal Planet shows a disclaimer before and during every episode which says that animal hoarding is being considered as a psychological diagnosis all its own.  Perhaps they mean for inclusion in the DSM. 

At this point, I would have to disagree.  I think animal hoarding is merely a symptom.  A response,a behavioral response, to some underlying problem we already have a name for.  Like depression. 

In Kitten’s case, they made her live cat-free for a certain period of time.  This gave her time to think, and to re-establish relationships with her family.  The carrot was that if she did well, she would get one (ONE) of her cats back.  Her favorite one.  At the end of the program, it shows the cat coming back home, and I was in tears.  Happy for her, and at the same time hoping she’d come far enough not to restart the bad path she had taken.

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