Sunday, 22 January 2017

Psy - The Human Side of Animal Hoarding

Psy - The Human Side of Animal Hoarding

Past trauma contributes to this mental health disorder.

(Getty Imag

nimal hoarding is a tragedy for the multiple dogs, cats and other creatures who face neglect, illness, filth and starvation because their overwhelmed owners can't properly care for them. It's often a tragedy for hoarders as well, whose actions may stem from mental illness combined with the best intentions.
In early 2016, Jack Breckenridge, the cruelty investigator for the Montgomery County Police Department's Animal Services Division, walked into one of the worst animal hoarding cases he'd ever seen. Inside a once-beautiful Rockville, Maryland, home, he says, 66 dogs, most barking wildly, were housed in unsanitary conditions throughout.

In early 2016, Jack Breckenridge, the cruelty investigator for the Montgomery County Police Department's Animal Services Division, walked into one of the worst animal hoarding cases he'd ever seen. Inside a once-beautiful Rockville, Maryland, home, he says, 66 dogs, most barking wildly, were housed in unsanitary conditions throughout.
The resident, eventually convicted of misdemeanor animal negligence as reported by the Montgomery County Sentinel, started with good intentions. "She was pulling dogs out of shelters that were going to be euthanized," Breckenridge says. The dogs were considered unadoptable, and from the woman's perspective, she was performing rescues. "You're chasing a noble cause, just one more dog out of the shelter, one more dog – and you've got 66 dogs in your house, segregated in different rooms," Breckenridge says. "It's a really slippery slope, and you end up with dogs who spend their lives in a cage. And in the mind of the suspect, that's better than euthanasia."
In most instances, animal hoarding is a mental health disorder, says Dr. Karen Cassiday, clinical director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in the Chicago metropolitan area. It falls under hoarding disorder in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The diagnosis doesn't include people who hoard animals for profit, as with puppy mills, or people who can't cope with their animals due to dementia.
Animal hoarders "view themselves as having a special connection with animals, and they feel like their relationship with animals is much safer, more emotionally intimate and more predictable than relationships they get with people," Cassiday says. "When we do neuropsychological testing, they have difficulty with tests where you have to distinguish details and make a whole out of it. And that makes it possible for them to notice the cute little puppy eyes of the dog or the eyes of the cat and not notice all the squalor around them."
Animal hoarders are more likely than other hoarders to have had traumatic life experiences, Cassiday says, such as deaths of loved ones, disrupted family relationships, divorce, being placed in a foster home and sexual assault. "Oftentimes, they are actually, ironically, gifted with animals," she says. "Whenever I work with animal hoarders, they're always saying how much they love the animals and the animals love them."
Distorted Perspective
"There's a profound lack of insight that occurs in these cases," says veterinarian epidemiologist Dr. Gary Patronek, an adjunct professor at the Center for Animals and Public Policy in the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. He describes "completely uninhabitable" houses he's entered. "There could be animals that are very, very ill, if not dead," he says. "And the person is completely oblivious as to the conditions. They don't see it. And I don't think they're putting on an act in any way, shape or form."
The Tufts-based Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium last estimated that roughly 3,000 to 5,000 new cases occur yearly nationwide, but updated numbers may be higher. Animal hoarders can't be pigeonholed, Patronek says. "We are seeing these behaviors in all socioeconomic strata; in very wealthy people and very poor people," he says. "We've seen it in men and women. We've seen it in married couples and intergenerational families."
If an animal hoarder lives in your community, some signs are fairly obvious. Owners may have lost count of the numerous animals in their home, yard and vehicles. Bad smells permeating the air are another sign. Animals may be lethargic and emaciated. Inside, the home is often severely cluttered, with broken or deteriorated walls, flooring and furniture.
Animal hoarders often neglect their personal appearance and self-care as they become more and more isolated. "They're proud of the fact that they're using all of their resources to care for the animals," Cassiday says. "They would feed the animals literally before they would feed themselves. I've had patients who are diabetic who would spend money on food for animals but not get their insulin. Or feed their animals before they'd feed their children and be proud of that." Not surprisingly, hoarders' family members resent that singlemindedness and feel hurt and estranged when animals always take precedence.
Taking Action
By calling 911 to address animal hoarding, Breckenridge says, "you can improve your neighbor's life and the animals in their care's lives." Of the 66 dogs removed from the Rockville home, he says, most were placed in adoptive homes or rescue agencies. Fewer than 10 animals were euthanized due to severe medical issues caused by neglect.
In Montgomery County, most of the animal services staff has been through crisis intervention training, Breckenridge says: "So we can identify mental illness and help people get the resources they need."
Patronek says interventions are most effective when a comprehensive, communitywide approach is in place. Look for a local task force on hoarding, he suggests, in which public health agencies such as departments on aging, animal control and others work cooperatively.
Treatment for Hoarders
"The worst thing you can do is go to [a hoarder] and confront them and tell them about all the things they're doing that are wrong," Cassiday says. She advises a softer approach: "I know you love animals, and I know you want to do the best. It looks like it's getting awfully difficult for you to manage. Could we go and talk to a therapist about this?"
Find a therapist who specializes in hoarding disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, she suggests. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing can help people change their behaviors. "One [goal] is to help the person realize that the best way to love animals is not to own all of them," she says.
Building a healthy life with meaningful human relationships and community connections is the next step. "The experience often is when they get rid of the squalor and there isn't this terrible smell, the families is happy to reconnect and have a relationship with this person," Cassiday says. "They've been longing for that all along."
Finally, people need to identify their personal risk factors and learn to manage them. "When we address all of that, in combination with random inspections from animal control – or if they're already in the court system, mandatory checks to make sure that everything is OK – things can go very well," Cassiday says.
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