TMCNet:  Animal hoarding part of 'vicious' cycle

[August 08, 2011]

Animal hoarding part of 'vicious' cycle

TAHLEQUAH, Aug 05, 2011 (Tahlequah Daily Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Local animal rescuers fear there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pets in Cherokee County housed in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, and fighting the trend often seems impossible.

Animal hoarding seems to be a growing problem in the U.S., and when the economy tanks, more people give their pets the boot because they can no longer afford to care for them.

Humane Society of Cherokee County board member Lou Hays said animal hoarding is part of a "vicious cycle," one that's especially prevalent in this area.

"I think animal hoarders slowly get into it," said Hays. "They often take in animals that wander up or get dropped off, but they are not willing or able to spay or neuter these pets. Hoarders almost always live in the county, and they usually love the dogs, and want to keep them." Having a dog spayed or neutered can typically cost from $50 and up, Hays said. Without that procedure, animals begin mating, and the population quickly grows.

Hays has been involved in a number of rescue efforts while volunteering at the HSCC. These issues both tug at the heartstrings of the rescuers and quickly bruise the funding source of the shelter, which is always operating at full capacity.

Volunteers say they wish they could do more, but can't keep up with the number of strays here. People who continue taking in strays, or allowing their own pets to breed, are making the problem worse.

During one hoarding situation last year, the shelter had to help 83 animals.

"Sometimes, the hoarders will call us and ask for the help," said Hays. "But the problem is that they want to keep some of the smaller ones to breed and sell, and won't get out of the business." Over the past four weeks or so, HSCC volunteers have been rescuing dogs from another Cherokee County residence. So far, they've taken 35 animals -- mostly puppies -- and Hays said there are probably dozens more inside the home and outside at the site.

This rescue alone came with a large price tag, which included funding a trip to a shelter in Illinois, where the animals will be rehabilitated and adopted by new homes. Rescuers focused on puppies because more of them can be transported across the U.S. in one trip.

"These cases take us months, to get the dogs cleaned up and transported to other shelters," said Hays. "Then we try to spay or neuter the rest. We do this if we are able, and if the person will agree they won't take in any more animals and will stop breeding them. But we have to have the money to do it. What you have to realize is hoarding situations result in a lot of sickness and disease. The pets can have mange or be really wormy." In this particular case, Hays said the person who called the HSCC and sought help for the situation is now backing out of the agreement to stop breeding the animals.

According to the Humane Society of the U.S., without long-term psychological intervention, animal hoarding has a nearly 100 percent recidivism rate. Removing animals from the situation is usually a temporary solution.

"It's hard to blame them," said Hays. "They do love the dogs, and the dogs keep wandering up, especially where there are other pets. But then there are breeders who will have way too many, and breeders are not doing so well right now, with the economy so bad. People aren't buying dogs." So those pets raised by breeders may end up in the parking lot of a local business, alongside a "free puppies" sign, said Hays -- and the cycle continues.

The Hoarding Animals Research Consortium defines animal hoarding by having more than the typical number of pets; being unable to provide them with basic standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care; and denial of the inability to provide that care, and the impact it has on the animals, the residence, and the people who live there.

The HSUS estimates some 250,000 animals fall victim to hoarding situations in any given year. Investigators typically find floors, furniture and counters covered with animal feces and urine, and sometimes find animal carcasses among the living animals.

Hoarding situations can attract diseases from insects and rodents, which not only can harm the residence where it occurs, but the neighbors and their pets.

Did you know? The Humane Society of the U.S. recommends animal-control services, social-service agencies, and health and housing agencies work together to treat each animal hoarding situation as a long-term project with intervention involving family members of the hoarder.

Prosecutors may be able to file animal abuse charges against hoarders, depending on the situation; if not, hoarders may be subject to citations from fire departments, health departments, or city code enforcement officers.

The HSUS suggests anyone convicted of hoarding animals be sentenced to mandatory psychological evaluation and treatment, and that they be restricted to owning a small number of pets.

According to various studies, a general consensus is that animal hoarding is a symptom of things such as dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Treatment is, according to the HSUS, difficult, with a low rate of success.

Get help For more information on animal hoarding, check out www.humanesociety. org/issues/abuse_neg lect/facts/hoarding.html. To find out more about the Humane Society of Cherokee County, including how to donate funding or supplies, or scheduled low-income spay and neuter clinics, visit www.humane cherokeecounty.org or call (918) 457-7997.

To see more of the Tahlequah Daily Press or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/. Copyright (c) 2011, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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