When the Love of Animals Becomes Deadly

Hoarders Collection Junk Cat Photo

Photo via: Fyunkie
Can you find the cat amongst this hoarders 'collections'?

Hoarders have been around for years. Some prefer to classify themselves as "pack rats," others "collectors." Whatever they choose to be called, they are still among the same mental illness which is categorized by the compulsive need to collect things. Some people collect mugs, others newspapers, but probably one of the most destructive of these people are those who are drawn to collecting animals...A hoarder is defined by someone who collects objects of limited value to the excessive degree that they eventually begin to take over their living space. Most of us have probably known a hoarder to some degree. I knew a friend in college whose father would purchase several items of anything he liked. If he liked a certain leather jacket, he would buy three of them, if he liked a microwave, he would buy four. He would always use the same excuse that he liked these items so much, he wanted a few extras in case something happened to one. He wasn't fooling anybody though, he was a hoarder.

Like all mental illnesses, there are different levels of extremes. There are actually many people who have a touch of this illness, but they are not really hurting anything enough to step-in and take action. However once someone does step over their boundaries, the necessary actions can turn into quite a battle. Take Miriam Sakewitz, (a.k.a. The Oregon Bunny Lady) and Barbara Woodley for example. Here are two animal hoarders whose actions stepped way beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.

The story of Miriam Sakewitz and Barbara Woodley
Mirriam Sakewitz is no stranger to headlines, having been given the name "The Bunny Lady" back in October of 2006, when nearly 250 rabbits were confiscated from her home. The reports suggest a scene of hundreds of rabbits hoping around her home, including 100 found dead in the preservation of either her refrigerator or freezer. Eight months later Sakewitz broke into the shelter were the surviving rabbits were being held and stole them back. Police found her several days later with with 10 rabbits in her vehicle (2 dead), and another 130 stashed at a nearby farm. She was sentenced in April of 2007 to five years probation and forbid to go within 100 yards of another rabbit.

Through the next two years Sakewitz remained in trouble with the authorities, violating her probation by continuing to keep rabbits at her home. Her probation officer tells the story of Sakewitz's constant refusal to let unannounced guests into her home, and when they finally gained entrance, if they didn't find a rabbit, they would find a half-eaten 10 lb bag of carrots nearby. She was recently arrested again (June 2009), having been found in a hotel room with another 14 rabbits (1 dead). She will be prosecuted for animal neglect charges yet another time. The story of Barbara Woodley is one other heartbreaking tale of animal hoarding.

Woodley, a retired woman in her 60's, owned a 4 acre plot of land in which was found 300 dogs. The dogs were kept in buildings on the property, stacked-up in cages where they would remain indefinitely. When the dogs were found, many had sores all over their bodies from being urinated and defecated upon from the dogs in the top cages. Woodley threatened to shoot the veterinarian who was ordered by a judge to tend to these dogs who had been found in poor health and unsanitary living conditions. This was only the beginning of a three year court battle that would eventually allow these suffering dogs to find new homes with good owners.

It Can be a Fine Line between 'Private' Animal Refuges and Hoarding
If you think these are very isolated cases, you are wrong. There is estimated to be some 250,000 animals being hoarded in the United States as you read this article. Many of these animals are living within the confines of some "eccentric, old, cat lady," and it may not even be realized the actual harm that is going on behind these doors. While these people appear to love their animals, many having even been rescued from other neglectful owners or euthanasia, but the problem is not love, it's overcrowding.

One such theory of the action of these people is that they are suffering from attachment disorders that can often be traced back to their youth. Parental abuse left these kids with only one form of companionship they could count on... their animals. These animals made them feel loved and secure and when these individuals become adults, they overcompensate for their troubles by trying to regain that same security by hoarding the thing that has always made them feel better. Without realizing the harm they are causing, they continue to collect more and more animals, of which many end up dying prematurely of disease.

Lessons from the Heart
There are several lessons to be learned from all this. For one, it is important to recognize the signs of this sickness and report such cases to the proper authorities immediately before things get to the advanced stages of the above two stories. There is also a painful reminder of the laws of sustainability. There is only so much space we have on this planet, so much time to care for it, and so much technology we can use to make the most of it. Despite all our good intention's, the world is just as fragile as the animals in these stories. We're meant to love all things great and small, after all, but it takes more than just one person to accomplish such a huge task!

More on animal neglect
Animal Cops Houston: Neglected Dogs
American Humane Association
History of ASPCA

When the Love of Animals Becomes Deadly
Hoarders have been around for years. Some prefer to classify themselves as "pack rats," others "collectors." Whatever they choose to be called, they are still among

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