October 29, 2006

Animal "collectors:" Why do they do it?

Via Drudge Report (first time I have looked at it in ages) comes yet another story of someone with a houseful of miserable, filthy, uncared-for dogs (and birds).

I am asking my favorite ex-animal control officer-turned-blogger to explain the phenomenon.

I still can't get over the fact that she was scooping up strays in Portland, Oregon, when I was a college student there. Surely we passed on the street at some time, and luckily, Muddy, my junior-year girlfriend's "collie with a screw loose" never wound up in her truck.

Muddy was a "homing collie" in reverse. He would leave our home in Lents Junction and turn up outside my girlfriend's ceramics studio on the Reed College campus, having gone at least five miles through city traffic. He didn't do it often, but when he did, my heart almost stopped.


Mary Strachan Scriver said...


Tufts is doing the primary research though if you Google "animal hoarding" you'll see that there are plenty of people ready to chime in. HSUS, naturally. The theory is that it's like "OC" or "Obsessive Compulsive" disorder where people collect stuff -- maybe just paper, sometimes garbage. The most amazing case I've read was the people who called animal control because the wall of their apartment stunk and had strange stuff growing out of it. When the officials finally managed to get into the apartment next door, it was occupied by a little old lady whose cats, when they died, were put into shoeboxes labeled with the cat's name and date of death. There had been a LOT of them for a long time. It appears that there is a genuine underlying chemical cause -- at least with proper medication and some therapy, people can stop doing it. There was a show on TV once about a woman who couldn't stop hoarding garbage and her progress over months with a dedicated helper. She said if the stuff was gone she felt empty, stripped, in danger. Most of the animal hoarders I've known (maybe a dozen) have been alcoholic or otherwise out-of-kilter, often elderly, and slightly deranged. If they weren't impoverished before, they become so after.

They "sort of" know they're doing it, but will defend their right to do it hotly. My cousin is a paper hoarder. His sister took a load of it to the garbage dump while he was away one day and the ensuing battle has embittered them both.

Prairie Mary

Chas S. Clifton said...

Cats in shoeboxes. That is an image that will stay with me, partly because it resonates with the Egyptian mummified cats-on-shelves that I saw in some archaeology article.

Do any of these hoarders genuinely start out rescuing animals, in your experience?

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

It all depends on what you think is "rescuing," which is one of the big tropes that are entwined with dogs. Do I think these hoarders found a dog teetering on the edge of a cliff or gone through the ice on a lake? No. More like, "Hey, mom, this dog followed me home. Can I keep him?"

The worst one I dealt with, the woman with the house full of chihuahua mixes, was doing pretty well until she got cancer and even then could have held her own if the dogs had been sterilized. Everyone underestimates how much dogs like a house that already has dogs in it and how quickly they breed and multiply. The National Animal Control Association magazine came today and one article was about a shelter that had a pit bull who was such a wimpy loving pansy that they just couldn't bear to put her down. When they spayed her, she was already carrying SIXTEEN puppies, half Great Dane.

Often the hoarders think of themselves as the head of a family or tribe, honored and loved by their animals, but despised and misunderstood by the rest of the world. This keeps them from asking for help and encourages them to hide their animals. It's a common human pattern and one that modern society aggravates, I think.

Prairie Mary

Steve Bodio said...

Just heard a story last night about a plausible, charming, usually solvent "yuppie" woman who hoarded salukis (up to 30!), and fled (twice) when discovered.

Mary, two fugitive felon survivalist brothers in the county west of us, captured last year, had many dead cats in boxes that died of feline leukemia. When they went to jail, they repeatedly called their landlord (I know him well, and got this from him) to beg him to preserve the corpses until they got out!

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

This is my reply to Steve.

These are illustrations about how humans can symbolize realities with "things" -- markers, like dollar bills! Right? My books are not just my books, they are symbols of whole realms, they contain times and places and people -- not just in the print but in the circumstances of acquiring them. You know how people are about old sweaters -- not even superstitious people. They come to be one's identity.

But when the "things" are living beings, made of flesh, altogether too liable to rot and stench -- one's mind must be really symbolizing in a powerful way. We call it "psychotic." But it can be somebody's identity and reality.

I mean, how REALLY in touch with reality are most of us? If I didn't believe my books would eventually sell, that my views would be vindicated and all that, could I get up in the morning?

Prairie Mary