I remember the first hoarding case I ever went on. The woman would never open the door, and her blinds were kept drawn. Standing on her porch, you could catch a whiff of animal waste, but just a whiff. Since she was unwilling to work with local humane officers, there was only one thing left to do: get a warrant to remove the animals from inside her house.
That day is etched in my mind. When the door finally opened, the smell was so overpowering that seasoned police officersâ€•including one who had just returned from Vietnamâ€•called for masks. Fleas leapt up to bite us all over as we threaded our way through the piles of saved newspapers. There were dead cats among the live ones and, down in the basement, a maggot-covered floor, a broken hot-water pipe spewing steam, and feral cats living in the dark in the rafters.
Not every hoarder has reached that stage, but that was not the last house of animal-hoarding horrors that I saw or helped to bust.
Willow is one of nine puppies who were born to a dog living alongside numerous other animals in the dilapidated home of an indigent hoarder we talked to a few months ago. Our cruelty caseworkers coordinated with local officials to provide this woman with enough food to last her until a kind volunteer could arrange to take the animals out of thereâ€•to a decent, reputable animal shelter.
But then it was discovered that the pups were suffering from symptoms consistent with parvovirus. Crowded, squalid conditions—the conditions one typically finds in hoarders’ homes—are incubators for communicable diseases. Parvo is a common yet preventable illness that causes uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, and eventual death in most cases. Willow was the only puppy to make it out of the house alive, along with nearly a dozen cats.
Willow’s story does have a happy ending. The volunteer who drove her to the animal shelter was so smitten with Willow that she adopted her. As you can see from this picture, Willow is enjoying a great life in her new home!
Is that local “sanctuary” that you heard about run by a hoarder? What about that “no-kill” shelter on the outskirts of town? Hopefully not! There are lots of good facilities, for sure. But please be vigilant, because if no one investigates, animals can suffer greatly. Hoarding is a recognized symptom of a particular type of mental illness, which, if left unchecked, leads to animal suffering—and often a slow, miserable death for the animals involved. Hoarders “collect” animals even when they can’t care for the ones they already have. They ignore or deny the increasingly substandard (and eventually appalling) living conditions that invariably arise and commonly refuse to seek veterinary care for sick or injured animals. They also often refuse to euthanize animals or take them to open-admission animal shelters—which is why so-called “no-kill sanctuaries” often wind up being a “front” for hoarders.
For animals who are suffering at the hands of hoarders, there is a fate worse than death—a fate that Willow escaped. I know that on my first hoarding case, we were able to rescue dozens of kittens from that horrid home, and I wept to think of how long they had lived like that and for the dozens more who had just crawled under the furniture and perished. To learn more about hoarding and what you can do if you know of a hoarder in your area, please read our factsheet.
Written by Ingrid E. Newkirk