There is a cat lady in my neighborhood. And no, it isn’t me. Everyone on the street has reported her to the authorities, but they haven’t been able to do anything about her, because the cats only come out at night, and animal control doesn’t. So every evening as the sun goes down, she open her garage door about a foot, and starts pouring bowls of food. If you happen to walk by, you’ll notice two things. One, the smell of cat pee will burn your eyes at 50 yards. Two, if it’s dark enough, the sea of eyes glowing inside that slightly opened garage door will make you think Stephen King is filming a new movie.
My animal-loving friends joke that certain people among us (you know who you are) could grow up to be cat ladies. But it’s just a joke. Really. Because people like the Cat Lady are suffering from a disease: Hoarder’s Syndrome. The DSM-IV generally links animal hoarding with a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and authorities on the subject recognize that people who suffer from this illness operate under the delusion that they are “helping” these animals.
Our Cat Lady is a little non-standard, because as far as we can tell, her herd of cats are mostly ferals who run loose and show up en masse for meals. Of course, we have no way to know how many are in the house. There have been many documented cases in which hoarders have literally hundreds of cats or dogs in a space that would be appropriate for two or three pets. The saddest part is that most animals kept by hoarders are both profoundly unsocialized and ill from a variety of diseases spread by the unsanitary conditions; the animals largely end up having to be euthanized, which simply reinforces the hoarder’s delusion that he/she is the only true savior of the animals.
Many animal hoarders start as unofficial rescuers, bringing home abandoned animals in need of help. But somehow they can’t find suitable homes for the animals, because no one can take care of them as well as the “rescuer”. And one becomes ten, becomes twenty, becomes thirty…and as the numbers grow, sanitation, spay/neuter, and vet care fall by the wayside as the rescuer turned hoarder becomes overwhelmed by the numbers. And still they keep bringing them home.
The rule is simple: only bring home the ones you can afford to take care of. And if you know someone headed for this kind of trouble, notify the authorities, because it only gets worse.