The Psychology Behind Animal Hoarding - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

The Psychology Behind Animal Hoarding

Posted: 11/20/2017 17:09:00 -05:00 Updated:

SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. - Animal hoarding cases may seem few and far between, but when they occur right here at home, they're unforgettable.

In the past few years, Delmarva has seen a number of high profile animal hoarding cases, including a puppy mill in Wicomico County, a woman with 40 cats in Chincoteague, and most recently, an incident where 43 dead dogs and 31 others were found at a home in Seaford.

Dr. Katherine Elder, a psychologist at Delaware Psychological Services, says her field is just starting to dive into this complex issue. 

"The research studies are newer in the last 10 years, 15 years," she says. "Part of it is because animal hoarding has doubled in the last four years."

Elder says according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), hoarding is now it's own diagnosis, wherein years past it was listed under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Elder also says that there's only about a thirty percent overlap between animal hoarders and people who hoard items.

"Hoarding--in in of itself--of materials, people place value on all kind of things, be it bottle caps, newspapers, books," Elder explains. "With animals they usually pick something specific and unlike an object, people really attach to [animals]."

Elder says in hoarding cases, it's about equal parts men and women, whereas animal hoarders tend to be female. She says the average age of an animal hoarder is early to mid 50's. there are three different "types" of animal hoarders: the exploiter, the rescuer and the overwhelmed caregiver, all with their own specific mental health needs and motivations that led to their hoarding scenarios. In most cases though, Elder says treatment must be relationship based. 

"Most hoarders are very isolated. They've sort of pushed away their social support. They've pushed away family members," says Elder. "Although family members and neighbors are usually the ones calling in these cases and have the most concern."

Walter Fenstermacher, the Director of Operations at the Brandywine Valley SPCA Georgetown Campus echoes Elder's comments, saying family members are starting to call as they see red flags, preventing worse hoarding situations.

"It's only our second year in Delaware, but we have seen a number of these cases," he explains. "We think people are starting to pick up the phone and really start to report conditions they don't think are safe."

Just like the different types of animal hoarders, Fenstermacher says every animal hoarding situation is unique as well.

"There are some cases where we try to remove pets slowly and try to work with the pet parent and there are others scenarios where it's just very clear this is the worst scenario for the pets to stay so we remove them all at the same time," he says. "We work with the Office of Animal Welfare to arrange transport, we work with local veterinarians to arrange medical evaluations and supportive care which can quickly become costly."

Fenstermacher says one overnight visit to a veterinarian can cost $1,000, so hoarding cases can easily cost thousands immediately. The Brandywine Valley SPCA is still accepting donations for the care of the dogs found in Seaford. Fenstermacher says it can be tough to see animals come to the shelter in such poor shape, but helping them recover is incredibly worthwhile. Another positive from hoarding situations is the public attention they attract.

"We have folks that visit specifically wanting to adopt from a case or from a hoarding scenario," Fenstermacher explains. "Maybe they don't make their match from their case but they can find another animal in the shelter that really matches their home."

Multiple dogs from the Seaford case have already been adopted. For information on the dogs still available, contact the Brandywine Valley SPCA. 

 

 

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