Friday, August 5, 2011

If one dog is good, are twenty dogs better? (The psychology behind animal hoarding)

Animal rights organizations champion "pro-animal" causes, ranging from opposition to puppy mills to promotion of vegetarianism. (Not that the "nuke the whales, save the plankton" crowd thinks much of the latter efforts.)

But one organization, the ASPCA, also promotes awareness of something they call "animal hoarding."

And no, they're not talking about businesspeople trying to corner the market on cute poodles. They're talking about individuals who have multiple pets - eventually so many pets that they can't care for them all, and the animals suffer.

New York City, 2008- ASPCA'S Humane Law Enforcement agents arrived on the scene to find over 20 Pomeranian dogs in a couple's one-bedroom apartment. The canines were severely matted and the apartment was covered with filth and debris. The couple insisted that the animals were well cared for, despite physical evidence to the contrary, and refused to surrender them.

People wonder why people do this. I once lived near someone who liked to feed all of the stray cats in the neighborhood - until another her out to the local humane society.

The ASPCA looked into the "why" issue:

It is not clearly understood why people become animal hoarders. Early research pointed toward a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorders, but new studies and theories are leading toward attachment disorders in conjunction with personality disorders, paranoia, delusional thinking, depression and other mental illnesses. Some animal hoarders began collecting after a traumatic event or loss, while others see themselves as “rescuers” who save animals from lives on the street.

“Historically, a person who collected animals was viewed as an animal lover who got in over his or her head, but the truth is that people who hoard are experiencing a total loss of insight,” says Dr. Randall Lockwood, ASPCA Senior Vice President, Forensic Sciences and Anti-cruelty Projects. “They have no real perception of the harm they're doing to the animals."

In the majority of cases, animal hoarders appear intelligent and clearly believe they are helping their animals. They often claim that any home is better than letting that animal die. In addition, many hoarders possess the ability to garner sympathy and to deceive others into thinking their situation is under control. They often are blind to the fact that they are not caring for the animals and to the extreme suffering they are inflicting.

Sandra Kiume cites an article behind a firewall that looks at the reasons for animal hoarding:

There are several theoretical psychological models comparing to delusional disorder, early-onset dementia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD symptoms of hoarding possessions does parallel hoarding animals in key areas.

And one person looks to the childhood of the animal hoarder:

It is quite common for animal hoarders to report very dysfunctional childhoods, characterized by inconsistent and unstable parenting if not outright abuse, during which animals were the only stable fixtures.

A dysfunctional childhood is correlated with a disordered attachment style. This can result in a controlling pattern of relationships, such as compulsive caregiving, as an adult. In this behavior pattern, a person selects someone with a sad or difficult life, and provides care obsessively, irrespective of whether the care is wanted or needed. This kind of behavior often characterizes the caregiving style of animal hoarders.
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