Once portrayed as people who “cared too much” and “in over their heads”, animal hoarders are now recognized as suffering from a diagnosable mental illness linked to obsessive compulsive disorder. My first experience (back in the 1970s) was with a man who sat perfectly still in an overstuffed chair, next to dozens of identical white shirts fresh from the drycleaner neatly hung on a metal clothes rack, sipping Scotch and nibbling vanilla wafers while Animal Control Officers followed a pack of little brown dogs tunneling through waist-high debris covering the apartment. It struck me then, and probably would still today, as a scene from some art film rather than real life. But it was real, as was the profound neglect the dogs suffered.
Another example…. Because agents were discomforted by the rattlesnakes, we were called to the home of a child pornographer by the U.S. Marshall who’d seized the property. The Marshalls were unaware that possession of the snakes was itself a crime. Worse, however, were the conditions. Tanks in bedrooms, bathrooms, on the kitchen counter, the living room floor, most beyond filthy, half-digested and regurgitated mice littering the tanks of these malnourished, dehydrated, dying wild animals.
And while the phrase “cat lady” may evoke an almost laughable image, like something from a Saturday Night Live skit, my worst had over 400 cats — excluding those wrapped in plastic in her freezer — in and around her home. The overwhelming fumes required respirators and protective clothing which fortunately shielded us from a literal cloud of fleas that approached as we entered, courtesy of a warrant executed by Police and Adult Protective Services. Power tools cut through walls to recover cats stuck in the narrow space between this and the next home. It took more than a week to round up all the animals.
Animal Control Officers and Humane Investigators come to this work out of a desire to help animals, but more often that you may realize they deal with people themselves in need of help.