Hoarders Need Compassion, Not Shaming

 |  Sep 5th 2011  |   57 Contributions


More than 100 cats were rescued from Dolores Metcalf's Kansas City, Mo., home last week. Photo by Allison Long, <em>Kansas City Star</em>

I have a confession to make, and it's kind of an embarrassing one.

I have a sick fascination with train-wreck "reality" shows like Hoarders. If I had cable TV, I'd probably watch Animal Planet's Confessions: Animal Hoarding series, too.

Although watching shows like this probably means I have a few screws loose, I have to say that Hoarders and other similar series do make it clear just how sad and sick hoarders are. The animal hoarders are the saddest of all because they're not only harming themselves, they're also harming helpless creatures. These people's sense of reality is so distorted that they honestly believe they're doing the right thing, their living conditions are okay (or maybe " a little messy"), and that nobody else could give the animals the love and care that they can.

So when I heard about the removal of 120 live cats and 50 or so dead ones from Dolores Metcalf's home in Kansas City, Missouri, my heart broke not only for the cats living in such wretched conditions but for Metcalf, too.

It's easy to get outraged over what seems like a case of deliberate animal cruelty and willful ignorance and inaction by authorities — especially when you find out that this isn't the first time Metcalf has been busted for hoarding. In 2002, 94 cats, four dogs, a rabbit, and a ferret were removed from her trailer home.

What happened? How was Metcalf able to do this again? Back then, hoarding wasn't recognized as a mental illness, and authorities didn't realize that seizing her animals would not stop the hoarding behavior. In fact, involuntary seizure tends to make hoarders even more desperate and more secretive about their actions.

All you have to do is talk to Metcalf to find out just how much of a sickness hoarding is. In an interview with KCTV News, she said she knows animal control will kill all her cats, that they are her pets, and they're crazy about her.

If Metcalf is like most hoarders, I bet she never even saw half the cats that were living in her home.

And what did she say about the dead cats in the deep-freeze, each of which was wrapped in plastic and labeled with its name? She plans to bury them and have little monuments made for them, but "caskets are expensive."

A hoarder's perspective is just as twisted as that of someone deep in the throes of drug or alcohol addiction.

These people don't need to be shamed; they need to be helped. Unfortunately, hoarders almost always refuse professional help because they see themselves as the saviors of the animals they hoard, the victims of a heartless establishment that wants all of their "beloved pets" to be killed.

Why would hoarders even let neighbors, let alone a therapist, into their lives when they hold this belief so deeply?

With all this in mind, what can we do to prevent hoarding? What do we do to stop hoarders before their animal population gets completely out of control?

If I could suggest just one thing, it would be to have compassion. Hoarders are sick, not evil. I know it's easier said than done when you're crying as you watch cat after sick and dying cat being removed from a hoarder's home.

Have you ever discovered an animal hoarder or worked to rescue hoarded animals? Do you know of any treatment or intervention that's been successful and helped hoarders break free of their disease? What do you think?

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