While this might be a defensive response to threats made by authorities to remove the animals, she said it seems more deeply rooted. "Once the number of animals has overwhelmed their ability to provide adequate food, shelter and veterinary care, they cannot admit the need for help," said Steketee.
Steketee and colleagues recently interviewed animal hoarders for a study and found that many came from chaotic childhood environments and had problems with early attachment experiences with the parental figures in their lives. They also had more mental health concerns and dysfunctional relationships as adults.
"It is a sad situation because they began with the best of intentions and have failed to meet these," said Steketee. "They deserve our concern, not our wrath, unless they are among the few who are actively cruel toward animals."
Some social workers and veterinarians hope the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, slated for release in May 2013, will include an entry on hoarding. Recognition as a distinct disorder in this reference book will give the mental health community a better understanding of the problem and spur more treatment and resources, these advocates say.
With millions of unwanted pets nationwide, amassing large numbers of dogs, cats, and other sentient creatures isn't difficult. Experts say some hoarders develop a reputation as someone who will accept unwanted pets, or the animals they already own breed year after year. Others actively seek animals from shelters and individuals by perusing print and online classified ads and adoption websites.
Some hoarders also create websites to masquerade as reputable rescue organizations in order to obtain animals, said Gary Patronek, veterinarian and vice president for animal welfare at the Animal Rescue Leagu
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