By Paula Moore
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
I recently attended an estate sale at a house that had belonged to a hoarder. I’ve been going to estate sales for years and have seen all manner of houses, but nothing could have prepared me for the chaos within the hoarder’s house. Boxes stuffed with papers, photographs, magazines and old clothes were precariously stacked throughout the house, covering almost every single surface. Many rooms had a small pathway amid the clutter, barely wide enough for one person to navigate. Some rooms were completely impassable.
Now imagine that those boxes were cages and crates stacked one on top of another, each containing a miserable, sick animal, and that the surfaces were covered not with clutter but with feces and urine. This is the reality when people hoard animals, often under the delusion that they’re “saving” them — and the consequences are devastating.
Sad story every time
PETA has investigated numerous animal-hoarding cases over the years and, time and again, has found animals warehoused in deplorable conditions. The investigators have seen cats kept in impossible-to-sanitize wooden sheds and dilapidated, moldy trailers that reeked of ammonia, their living areas strewn with vomit, trash and waste. They’ve seen paralyzed animals forced to drag themselves around until they developed bloody ulcers. They’ve seen suffering animals deprived of veterinary care — including some plagued with seizures, diabetes and wounds infected down to the bone.
The most recent case involved rabbits. After receiving a request for help from a concerned whistleblower, PETA visited a rabbit-hoarding facility in Maryland. Hundreds of animals were confined to cramped, stacked cages overflowing with feces. One neglected rabbit, Rockette, suffered from a severely twisted neck, struggling to stand up on her own. She was denied veterinary care and left to languish until she finally died. Another rabbit suffered from a months-long respiratory infection that filled his throat with pus. Rabbits had abscesses, head tilt because of likely infection or trauma, painfully overgrown nails that sometimes got caught on wire cage bottoms and eyes sealed shut by discharge. Dead rabbits were found crammed into a freezer.
Following PETA’s tip, officials raided the facility and seized more than 200 animals. They had to wear masks to rescue the rabbits from up to 4 inches of feces and urine. The owner of the facility was convicted on one count of violating local animal-protection ordinances.
Humans at risk too
Animal hoarding puts everyone living inside the home in danger — not just the animals. There have been many incidents of animal neglect in which hoarders also neglected themselves, their children or other human dependents.
Sharing close quarters with so many sick animals can facilitate the transmission of disease between the animals and the home’s human occupants. And the high levels of ammonia — from the animals’ accumulated urine — can burn the skin, eyes and lungs. The extreme filth inside hoarders’ homes often results in condemnation of the property as unfit for habitation.
Hoarding “things” is bad enough. But when animals are involved, intervention is vital. A majority of animal-hoarding cases — at least 57 percent, according to one study — are brought to authorities’ attention by concerned neighbors. If you suspect that animals are being neglected or abused by their caretakers, even those who appear well intentioned, please be a “nosy neighbor” and alert authorities immediately.
Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, Norfolk, Va. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.