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Animal 'Hoarding' Often Tied to Mental Illness
Date:3/26/2011

By Maryann Mott
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 25 (HealthDay News) -- A small army of animal welfare workers spent nearly 10 hours removing hundreds of sick and dying animals from a rural North Carolina property in one of the United States' larger animal-hoarding cases.

More than 400 animals -- 17 species in all, ranging from ducks and rabbits to dogs and cats -- had been living in squalor with a middle-aged couple claiming to be animal rescuers. Yet these would-be saviors provided little, if any, food, water, or medical care.

"Every section of the property inspected was just more deplorable and just more hideous than the last one," recalled Shelley Swaim, an animal welfare inspector for the state, who was on the scene that day three years ago.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases of animal hoarding are believed to occur each year throughout the nation. While hoarders tend to be women, the compulsion to possess large numbers of animals beyond the ability to properly care for them crosses all age, gender, professional and financial boundaries.

Some of these hoarders suffer from significant mental health issues, and the phenomenon is as much a people problem as a pet problem.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California-based animal rights law organization, believes hoarding is the number-one crisis facing companion animals today because of the sheer number of animals affected (an estimated 250,000 annually) and the degree and duration of their suffering.

What separates animal hoarding from other types of cruelty is that the chronic neglect usually is unintentional. The vast majority of hoarders love the animals and try to care for them, but often have very limited insight into the nature and extent of their problem, explained hoarding expert Gail Steketee, a professor and dean at Boston University School of Social Work.

"This is one of the more disturbing aspects of their behavior,"
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