Q: I just read about a mom with two teenagers who was arrested because she had 60 cats living in her house. I don’t understand how a parent could do that to her kids — the conditions must have been a terrible health hazard. Why would someone do that?
George F., Deltona, Fla.
A: When there is an excessive number of animals in a home, it creates a serious health hazard. Living with animal waste, hair, ticks, fleas and animal-borne diseases can be dangerous for people, especially those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and young children. And it’s a health risk for the animals if they’re sick, malnourished and have wounds from fighting for territory in crowded conditions. But what’s often overlooked is the cause of this misery: It’s an emotional disorder called animal hoarding. Around 3,500 people, with an estimated 250,000 animals, come to the attention of authorities every year.
Animal hoarders “collect” animals because they’re compulsively driven to care for them; according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the neglect and abuse of the animals is accidental or unintentional — but the person is unable to prevent it. The hoarders often develop the obsession with caring for and loving pets after a trauma or loss. They also frequently have severe adult attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which makes it difficult for them to keep their living space clean and orderly. They combine extreme neglect of animals with extreme neglect, emotionally and physically, of themselves.