Animals play an important role in our lives, and the current pandemic has made their roles more significant. They have warmed our laps, photobombed video conferences, joined us on endless walks and have simply sat with us.
While we humans have been staying apart, I have seen more of the people and pets in my neighbourhood out for their daily exercise. This has made me more conscious of all the different animals that happily live in our community.
However for some, a love of animals can turn into an unsustainable and overwhelming situation.
Animal hoarding is a complex issue that is not often discussed. Its far-reaching effects encompasses mental health issues, animal welfare issues and health and hygiene concerns. Animals that are ‘collected’ by hoarders may include dogs or cats but can extend beyond this.
Sometimes it is associated with a traumatic event or may relate to other underlying mental health issues. It is more common in women and higher in the elderly. Importantly, we know the negative impact on the animal can be enormous.
Recently, at Lort Smith, we helped out a hoarder who has 13 undesexed and unvaccinated cats. Many were in very poor health, including several who has contracted cat flu and feline parvovirus. Sadly some didn’t survive.
It can be hard for someone to recognise that their love of animals has gone too far. When a person is unable to care for their animals, when the animals are not in good health, are under fed, not de-sexed, unvaccinated or have other health issues, hoarding may be an issue.
Hoarders all look different, they may not be living in a deteriorated home, but they are more than likely isolated. More often, hoarders insist they are doing the right thing, even when animals are showing signs of distress and illness.
It can be difficult for animal hoarders to accept help. They genuinely believe they are caring for their animals and may be concerned about what will happen to them if they are surrendered. They need to know help is available, right now.
There are many animal welfare organisations that work with local government to provide genuine tailored solutions. At Lort Smith, when working with people facing hoarding issues, we help provide necessary medical and welfare care that helps an unmanageable situation become manageable.
Sometimes this means desexing animals that may remain in the house and taking on surrendered animals, a few at a time, until a manageable number is reached. The surrendered animals are found new homes and the remaining animals receive the care and attention they need.
Help is available, and always has been with organisations like Lort Smith. Like us, there are a number of animal welfare organisations that have a no judgement policy and stand by their committed to never euthanaise a rehomable animal.
However, when animals are poorly socialised and living in unhealthy environments, the path to rehabilitation is more difficult. In some situations the outcomes might not be as positive as it could be, had help been sought earlier.
Not everyone with multiple animals is a hoarder, but if you think someone is struggling to care for their animals it may be time to offer some help. Speaking to your local council is often the first step.
Fiona Webster is the CEO of Lort Smith.