No, not the noun describing the metal fences that cover construction sites.

Recently we learnt of this term called ‘animal hoarding’. Hoarding is a compulsive habit bordering on personality disorder, used to describe humans who keep too many animals, picking up more all the time and/or breeding them, to the point where the animals’ care is badly compromised and the house in disrepair. Think of the movie ‘Grey Gardens’.

We also learnt that not all who keep a lot of animals (think thirty cats or a hundred rabbits) are hoarders; some may be able to care for the animals individually through hired help and large living spaces.

In the case of hoarders, the animals might be better off on the streets, even. Where cats are concerned, placing new cats in the house all the time without integrating them properly will cause fights, stress, loss of appetites. Also, if one is sick, all will be too in a hoarder’s house, as they will not be receiving proper care, infectious diseases spreading easily with no quarantining. This is also one reason why not all cats need to be ‘rescued’ and placed in shelters (an idea suggested by some folks so that we will stop bothering with sterilising strays and allow authorities to cull them).

We have personally visited hoarders’ houses before. The sight is not pretty, and I decline to specifically report on or name the owners here for the sake of discretion. Let me just say that the hoarders’ homes we see are in extremely bad condition. The animals are sick, anti-social, there is shit literally everywhere because there is not enough space for toilets and not enough time to walk all the dogs. The floors are dirty, the animals have skin problems, none of them are groomed. The furniture will be non-existent or shredded to bits. Each animal has to ‘time-share’ a very small spot as territory. Horror-houses, really. The worst of these hoarders we know, we refer to as ‘The Nightmare’. (At the time we went to the ‘nightmare house’, Andy wish he smoked again so he could help immunise his nose against the smell.) We smelled of shit afterwards, and I felt like puking every time I leaned down to pick up or wipe up some poo.

How do you prevent yourself or your neighbours and friends from turning into hoarders, or help those that already are? Pet owner education is very vital, something we preach often through our work in Ubi, and the reason why we focus on pet care tips on our blog. The first step is educating the hoarders (or those on verge of becoming one), that there will always be a limit to the amount of animals you can care for. This limit is based on the number of animals currently in the house, your financial capability, and the personality or situation of the animals already under your care.

For example, with their toilets. Another cat usually means another litter box because cats don’t really like to share their toilets. With dogs, it means another dog to walk, as often as possible. Do you have the time or space or both to accommodate this? If you cannot find a sustainable solution to this issue, you will know what is the limit on the number of animals you can care for.

With financial capability, those that are able to keep many animals without compromising their care usually do one or all of the following: employ house-help to care for each animal personally and clean up after them; rent or buy a big house to house them all spaciously; sterilise every single animal under your care; afford medical care when needed without fail; feed proper food with water available at all times. If you find yourself failing at any of these, you probably have too many animals. If your friend is on the verge of becoming a hoarder, do harden your heart against the ‘so-cute-so-poor-thing’ animal and stop him or her from possibly worsening the animal’s welfare.

Depending on the personalities or backgrounds of the animals currently already under the care of the hoarder in question, a new animal may not benefit from being in this ‘home’. For example, some animals attack very young animals. Or you might have an animal with an incurable disease that could spread through bites, scratches, etc. If you know the hoarder’s animals personally, illustrate possible scenarios to stop them from bringing more animals in. E.g. “If you bring home this cat, your (another cat) will definitely attack / eat up / spread the disease etc. to this new cat.” Identify those under the hoarder’s care that needs to be re-homed because they are ‘trouble-makers’ affecting the general population, or the ‘victims’ of the crimes another animal is repeatedly committing against. The ‘victims’ will definitely be easier to re-home without resorting to abandonment or euthanasia.

If someone you know is already a hoarder, intervention can be gradual or full-force. Gradual intervention is preferred, which I will explain why. In gradual intervention, educate the person on the reality that there is a serious lack of welfare for these animals. Picking up strays is not an alibi any longer, the reality is that the animal is suffering even more now. This will take time and persistence. Think of hoarders as delusional – they are living in a fantasy and you need to wake them out of it. Offer to help them re-home any further animals they see in need before they take home any more. Help them to transport animals for sterilisation and medical care at a rate they can afford.

Direct intervention is risky but effective in changing the situation. In full-force intervention, you may end up losing a friend and killing some of the animals. You will need to remove the animals from the house and clean it up. Removing so many animals will be hard; some will be impossible to re-home, which probably means euthanasia via SPCA or AVA or privately if there is enough courage. If the owner is totally uncooperative, you will need to blow the whistle on the home owner by calling it in so that animal control, health inspectors etc. will come and intervene with authority. Or you may need to ‘kidnap’ the animals. Some believe in releasing the animals onto the streets or into the wild, but that is a moral decision you need to make.

Try for gradual intervention first. You will need to act as a community because it is not easy converting the delusional by yourself. Read here on how to set up a community-based animal welfare group.

And make sure you don’t become one yourself too… for the sake of the animals on God’s earth. Remember that is not just about what an animal can give you, it is more about what you can give it. If you really have a desire to help more animals you can possibly own, think of other ways like sponsoring and volunteering.

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