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January 17, 2003

Collecting Bug
Posted by Teresa at 07:20 PM *

This started when I read one too many stories about some recluse who, when their neighbors finally got the city to act on repeated complaints about noxious odors, turned out to be living in filth and squalor with 137 live cats, all of them in pitiable condition, plus the rotting or mummified or partly cannibalized or refrigerated carcasses of an indeterminate number of dead cats.

It came to me that I’d seen a great many of these stories, and that they were all of a pattern. What was going on there? I went googling to find out.

Take a deep breath.

The term for it is animal collecting or animal hoarding. Basically, hoarders accumulate an impossible number of animals—more than they can care or provide for, and far too many for the available space. Their quarters rapidly become a stew of filth, misery, and suffering animals. For instance:

I volunteered to assist in a collector case involving a woman who claimed to breed “show poodles.” The neighbors finally called the police because of the foul odor coming from her house. …

This collector was a middle-aged woman who had literally filled her house to the brim with poodles — letting them breed and inbreed until she ended up with at least 40 poodles in a tiny two-bedroom house. Since she never let them outside to go to the bathroom, layers upon layers of urine, feces, and newspapers stood two to three feet high throughout the home. The dogs were covered in their own urine and feces and their coats were severely matted from lack of care.

One dog had just given birth to a litter of puppies, yet she was so thin I could see every bone in her body. Old dogs, young dogs, and even puppies all suffered, living in deplorable conditions with no visible food or water. Emaciated dogs fed off the carcasses of dogs that had already starved to death. Others crouched in corners and hid behind furniture in fear from the lack of human companionship and socialization. … All of the dogs were emaciated, many were obviously sick, yet the woman denied any wrongdoing in the care she provided for her dogs.

Hoarding used to be thought of as an eccentricity, but more and more it’s being recognized as a social problem—and, more to the point, a form of mental illness. Here’s Salon on the subject:
Gary Patronek, director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University, argues that animal hoarding represents a vastly misunderstood problem. …

“For years it’s been perceived as an animal welfare issue, and left for the shelters to handle by themselves,” Patronek says. “The human [side of the problem] has been largely ignored.”

Patronek and his group, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC), coined the phrase “animal hoarding” in 1997. It was a watershed moment: There had always been cat ladies, and newspaper stories about them began to appear routinely a decade ago, but they were referred to, rather benignly, as collectors.

“That connoted nothing,” says Patronek, who, as a veterinarian, has walked into homes putrid with rotting carcasses and urine-soaked floors. He says the behavior “is much more like the pathological hoarding of objects.”

Animal hoarding, says Patronek, is the end state of several different pathways. It can be an outgrowth of the problems of old age. Sometimes it’s just good intentions colliding with bad coping, like the couple in North Carolina who took in 100 potbellied pigs. Unfortunately, she then fell ill; and after that, as her husband said, “Things just get away from you.”

Many animal hoarders also compulsively hoard objects. Even without the animals, their houses would still be cluttered and disorganized, becoming in their end stages what social service providers call garbage houses. This may put them on the same map as the obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), as opposed to the addictive model some animal-welfare advocates favor. Even more than people who live in garbage houses, animal hoarders tend to become secretive and isolated. Their lives fold inward until it’s just them, the animals, and a houseful of sh*t.

Some statistics: It’s estimated that there are 700 to 2,000 new cases of animal hoarding every year in the United States. Two studies of hoarders showed:

Most cases were female (76%), a large proportion (46%) were 60 years of age or older; most were single, divorced or widowed; and almost half lived alone. The most common animals involved were cats (65%) and dogs (60%). … The conditions described were fairly consistent in both studies. Dead or sick animals were discovered in 80% of reported cases, yet in nearly 60% of cases the hoarder would not acknowledge the problem. In 69% of cases, animal feces and urine accumulated in living areas, and over one-quarter of the hoarders’ beds were soiled with feces or urine. … A significant number of hoarders had nonfunctional utilities (i.e., bathroom plumbing, cooking facilities, heat, refrigeration and electricity).
Sometimes the only cleanup option is to burn or bulldoze the house.

That’s one level of weirdness. (Level 1.1: Hoarding beavers.) Next level: Hoarders say they love animals, and characteristically believe that they have exceptional insight where animals are concerned. They also believe they’re “saving” them from certain euthanasia. They refuse to let them be adopted by others. Some can’t even bear to relinquish their animals’ corpses :

An investigator found dead cats in one collector’s freezer. Another collector, also unable to accept the death of her cats, eviscerated their bodies and dried them on her fire escape, keeping their dried remains in cupboards. Many collectors see themselves as the only person who can help animals, and they distrust other individuals or groups who offer assistance. When outsiders intervene, collectors may refuse to part with any of their animals, even through adoption or veterinary care for the sick.
As one animal welfare worker said, “Collecting is not about having a loving home. Collecting is not about love, it’s about control. I have real contempt for collectors.”

Here’s another:

Pamela Frasch, an attorney with the anti-cruelty division of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, … recalls one collector who, when her dogs were seized, fought to keep them from being treated with medication for heartworm. Demanding holistic treatment, the woman kept the case tied up in court as each of the dogs died a painful death from that illness. “The standard line,” says Frasch, “is, ‘I love these animals and no one can love them as I can.’
And again from Salon:
“Perhaps the most prominent psychological feature of these individuals is that pets (and other possessions) become central to the hoarder’s core identity,” Patronek writes in Municipal Lawyer magazine. “The hoarder develops a strong need for control, and just the thought of losing an animal can produce an intense grief-like reaction. …

On their way to the squad car, hoarders often explain that they simply love animals, or that these particular critters would’ve died without their intervention, or that in a mere two cats lies loneliness. The would-be animal rescuers often say they hear a calling. The problem is that they don’t always answer properly. The great irony regarding hoarders, of course, is that their loving benevolence commonly leaves a trail of horribly sick and neglected animals.

To me, the most striking feature of the animal hoarder’s psychology is their state of complete and utter denial. This is not your usual “Your father never did that, you don’t understand what he was going through, and why do you insist on only remembering the bad things?” kind of denial. This is world-class craziness. Hoarders insist there’s no problem, the house is just a little messy, and their critters are fine—even when the feces are a foot deep, animals are dropping dead and other animals are cannibalizing them, or the poor beasts have chronic infections that leave them with masses of scar tissue instead of eyes. If it weren’t real, it would be unbelievable:
Irene Holmes, a District Attorney who has assisted in the prosecution of a number of collector cases throughout the United States, … states that collectors have a “death grip on denial.” She gives the example of a woman who was shown a photograph of one of the dogs that was seized from her care. The photo shows a Weimaraner, so starved from lack of food that it was literally shedding its intestines and rectum. Holmes relates that when the woman who owned the dog looked at the photo, her only comment was “I guess it did seem a little ill.”
Their recidivism rate is close to 100%. I can think of two ways to get an idea of the magnitude of the misery involved. One is to read the Humane Society’s two-part article on how to conduct a large-scale intervention. The other is to read about the career of Marilyn Barletta, the Petaluma Cat Lady, or the even stranger case of Vikki Kittles.


Although many cases are successfully prosecuted, the punishment is seldom severe — very few collectors are punished beyond paying a fine. Even collectors whose animals have all been confiscated, and those who have been convicted of animal cruelty as the result of their collecting and neglecting animals, seldom stop this aberrant behavior. Most just move to another county or state and start collecting all over again. For example, a Maryland collector had 50 companion animals confiscated from her residence a few years ago. Two days later she had 20 more animals …
Addendum: If you’re interested in the clutter-and-hoarding angle but can’t deal with the animal mistreatment stories, you want the following links from the paragraph that begins, “Many animal hoarders also compulsively hoard objects”: hoard , objects, cluttered (1), cluttered (2), end stages, garbage houses, and OCD. The piece on garbage houses is particularly striking.
Comments on Collecting Bug:
#1 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 07:52 AM:

Hoarders are definitely a personality type. (I live with one, though a hoarder of books, papers, and neckties.)

But animal hoarding evaluated in isolation denies a crucial piece of the social puzzle: the pet industry as such behaves much like the animal hoarders, and in that sense the pet hoarders have a point: their animals are probably not that much worse off than in many socially sactioned commercial sitautions.

The pet industry has a fair amount of attrition on the way to market and many animals that make it there are sick. The hoarders at least think that they love their animals.

#2 ::: Case ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 10:53 AM:

I'm sorry but even if the pet industry is remotely close to these awful situations, it does not make animal collectors any less guilty of animal cruelty.

I just wish I hadn't eaten before reading this.

#3 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 12:19 PM:

I think this is the only entry in Teresa's weblog for which I've been completely unwilling to click on any of the hypertext anchors. I'm glad to say that her summary is good enough to save me from having to do so.

I think that there is a similar phenomenon of "child hoarding." Child hoarders who can still limit their behaviour sometimes make pay in a child care service operation, but some sufferers from this malady just quickly produce a long string of dirty, unhappy babies.

I don't by any means want to suggest that this is the usual reason for either large families or careers human services, but rather that child hoarding would be a motivation for going on adding children when it was clear that they were already not taking proper care.

I wonder if that nonfeasant crematorium operator in Georgia who was arrested last year might be a corpse hoarder. Of course, not all manifestations of the hoarding impulse are so gruesome: I know a fellow who has more Parker Brother's lightweight projectile toys than he has storage space for: he's a Nerf™ hoarder.

#4 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 12:42 PM:

...never mind changes in the food industry leading to much greater concentrations of animals in much larger factories. A recent issue of National Geographic had a frightening article on this topic claiming (as I recall) that 10% of uncooked chickens that _make it to stores_ are infected with salmonella because of the crowded conditions in which they are raised these days.

This is not to excuse cruelty in any form. But rather to say that there is an industrial pathology which is socially acceptable which parellels, and in some cases overlaps, the personal pathologies described in Teresa's links.

#5 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 01:29 PM:

Bob: But is he a scruffy nerf hoarder?

Kathryn: I too am married to a hoarder of books and papers. The man still has copies of papers he wrote in junior high. I think, though, he keeps them as an aid to memory. He told me once he was afraid if he didn't keep all these things that he wouldn't be able to remember his past.


#6 ::: Janice ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 03:38 PM:

I've read about animal collectors in the past. I have a mild tendency to collect things myself, and to a small extent, I can understand how one can get started down this path.

I don't know how much overlap there might be between puppy mill breeders and collectors though. Interesting thought.

#7 ::: Jon ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 04:47 PM:

There was the article in the New Yorker from a month or three ago, about the woman in Jersey a few years back who was collecting tigers. Yes, tigers. To make it really painful was the fact that they were various types and she was letting them breed. When they finally busted her on it, a) she wasn't sure how many she had (most estimates were about thirty-odd, and b) no zoo would take them because most weren't purebred.

Now, imagine having her for a neighbor.

#8 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 07:31 PM:

I also see a lot of this with reptiles, although the denial here ismore on a level of financial hoarding. Just as with the "Star Wars" fanatic who refuses to throw out that whole room full of "Episode One" Pizza Hut boxes (and to spare the comments that I'm making this up because of my loathing of George Lucas, I have two otherwise dear friends who won't fix the roof on their house because the money goes into "Star Wars" collectibles instead), reptile hoarders keep animals in simply incredible levels of filth but won't part with them simply because "they're valuable, man!" honestly think that the negative sereotype of reptile keeper as white-trash slob is due to the hoarders: dog, cat, or horse hoarding (you get a lot of that in Texas) elicits pity and sympathy for both the animals and the keeper, but when the hoarded animals are Burmese pythons or Nile monitors, the response is shaded by the "undesirability" of the animals.

As an addendum, the worst situation is when two hoarders marry. My ex-wife and I were horrible hoarders of papers and memorabilia: she with tons of Beatles memorabilia and broken furniture that she "was going to get around to fixing one of these days", and myself with a simply ridiculous amount of magazines, books, and papers. After she and I split up, I decided to take a stand and threw out literally three tons of unnecessary manuscripts and papers, some of which dated back to 1984. Now I'm happily married to a woman with no tolerance of that level of hoarding, and we couldn't be happier. As to my ex-wife, now, I fully expect to see her in one of these articles one of these days.

#9 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 08:53 PM:

Maybe I live in the wrong part of the country, but I've never thought of reptile keepers as white-trash slobs. The few I've met (not counting my cousin in veterinary school, who has a fair number of turtles) have all been suburban geeks. If anything, they tend to be more well-groomed than average for their peer group.

How does horse hoarding work?

#10 ::: Cowboy Kahlil ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 09:08 PM:

I shamelessly hoard blog links on my sidebar. Either that, or I've whored shamelessly on the sites of my sidebar links.

Your research continues to 'spur' me on to heights I never dreamed of...

Okay, enough silliness. I, like other commenters, collect books and papers. (A habit of all compulsive writers?) I have a box of bad (mostly) poetry scribbled on everything including restaurant napkins. Another box has dozens of W-2s; I went through them once and discovered jobs and times I'd forgotten, so it does act as a virtual memory.

Old newspaper files are the worst. Saving clippings of things that interested me for a bit didn't seem so odd then, but with the advent of the WWW, they probably are unnecessary.

I'm just thankful I've led a nomadic life, as that's forced me to toss out all kinds of junk, after which, I usually need that odd thing I just threw away.

Yet gathering living creatures seems way beyond my sickness. I always did feel sorry for folks who got prosecuted for that. Unless they were making a profit from it, it was pretty obvious to me that there was a short in the wiring.

I think the mental health pros were a little slow to catch on though.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 09:25 PM:

Nice analysis, TNH.

A cat lady made the news in the Bay Area a few years back. The coverage included the first mention I'd heard of "animal hoarding." She was fairly wealthy, late middle-aged, and as I recall divorced. She bought a house in (as I recall) Santa Cruz, and kept cats there. She didn't live there, just visited now and then, tossed in food, and drove back to San Francisco. She didn't believe in spaying and neutering.

The place got cleaned out, eventually, when the neighbors complained about the smell. Perhaps two dozen of the hundred-plus cats were "salvageable" (kittens, and a few socialized adults.)

A few months after the cleanup, the lady was caught "collecting" again.


Janice notes:
"I don't know how much overlap there might be between puppy mill breeders and collectors though."

The only overlap is neglect and callousness. Puppy mills are businesses, run to make money. They want to move the animals out, ASAP, to make room for the new inventory. #B^/

Interestingly, some puppy mills are run by Amish folk. Dogs = livestock. My parents' mennonite neighbors breed rat terriers for pin money; if they had more than one female they'd be close to puppy mill status.

#12 ::: Jen ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 11:09 PM:

A few weeks back I saw a documentary on hoarders. One of those 3 am investigative report things. Apparantly there is an industry for house cleaning specialists who specialize in hoarders. Police departments and other governmental agencies use them. Really awful work. You should have seen what they had to deal with.

#13 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 04:00 AM:

Thank God for the Kerlan Collection at the Un of Minnesota where I can send old manuscripts and
the rest of the paperwork for each book I write or we would be buried in a papery grave.

I am a partial hoarder-- I can be persuaded about every other year to do a "muckle roup", that is Scottish for a big clearance. I do tend to hold on to the clothes I wore when I was younger and slimmer, though the rational part of my brain tells me that even if I ever get down to a size eight again, I won't want to wear Indian print dresses!


#14 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 12:52 PM:

I recently saw a news story about a house that had to be razed because the hoarded animals in it had pretty well destroyed it.

There were 440 guinea pigs in the house. I think
it was in the Detroit area.

#15 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 01:57 PM:

I don't hoard animals, but hoarding of books and papers is clearly a trait that runs in my family.

I had to come to terms with this trait when I moved to Champaign-Urbana three years ago, and rented a smaller apartment. A large amount of books had to go. I had to talk myself into it. The rationale I worked up was that I had a lot of books I had never got around to reading, and maybe was never going to read; they weren't doing me any good in the apartment if I wasn't reading them; and I lived in a university town with good bookstores and a world-class library and I could obtain just about any book in question if I wanted to.

Plus, I made $250 dollars selling books to the town's used bookstores.

Hoarding traits don't go away, and since I moved here, more books have piled up. I have to periodically talk myself into getting rid of more books. Since the major winnowing my collection when I first moved in, the overall salability of the books I'm willing to part with has gone down. So the money I can make from selling them is no longer such a strong argument, plus the myth I entertain that selling them to a used bookstore will get the books into a "good home". It's harder to just drop them off at the Goodwill store.

And none of this even touches the problem of the ten years of old fanzines piled up in my closets.

#16 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 02:43 PM:

The "animal industry" is too much of a blanket term, as it takes in everything from puppy mills to reputably breeders. (And there are laws in most states against puppy mills.)

We get around the problem by getting all of our dogs through Whippet Rescue. (There are, in fact, rescue services for all types of purebred dogs and cats.) Our latest whippet, Sierra, was rescued from another one of the animal hoarders, some madwoman in Merced who had 165 dogs and 50 cats stuck into a four bedroom ranch house. The house was condemned because the urine had dissolved the support posts.

Sierra is a very cute little dog, but it's took us nearly a year to housebreak her, the problem made worse by her being both starved for affection and terrified by any amount of yelling. Thankfully, carpets can be steam-cleaned, which we did last summer.

When we first got her, anything that didn't look like dog kibble wasn't food to her, but she's now learned different and hits me up for dog biscuits first thing in the morning. She also has a cute/sad habit of not wanting to take toys from you, but if your back is turned, she'll go to the toy basket, sneak one out, then run off to play with it by herself.

She used to sleep in a dog crate because that felt "safe" to her, but I've finally weaned her off that and she either sleeps on her pillow, or sometimes in what she's decided is the "safe" spot at the foot of my bed.

I expect in a couple more years she should get over the rest of the skittishness. The good news is that she's very sociable with guests and happy to see them (they've never yelled about peeing on the rug).

The thing that burns me the most about animal hoarders is the sympathy people have for them. Every time I mention the madwoman who had Sierra, people go, "Oh, she was mentally ill...." Yeah, so was Jeff Dahmer, and I don't see anyone giving him much sympathy.

#17 ::: Pfish ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 02:49 PM:

I come from a family of hoarders, although the degree to which it has been practised has varied over time. My dad collected snakes (I believe Paul Riddell noted a number of reptile collectors), but I believe that he took good care of them--I have many childhood memories of me and my siblings helping my father with weekly and bi-weekly cleanings of the snake and mice cages. (The mice were there to feed the snakes.) And I remember that my dad tried to instill a certain amount of respect for the animals themselves into us. Once I remembered squeezing a snake as I held it, and naturally it bit me. My father made me apologize to the snake for hurting it. :) Eventually, he slowly phased the snakes out, as the mice were making my mother's allergies act up. Quite a few of the snakes were donated to a local zoo, which was glad to take them because they were fairly decent and well taken-care-of specimens.

My mother, on the other hand, was an object collector. She can't bring herself to throw things away, unless they are actually garbage. (Although sometimes the mileage on her definition of garbage and my definition of garbage varies widely.) For example, when I tidied her living room this summer, I went through the bookshelves, and found over fifteen copies of the Book of Mormon in various stages of disrepair. I then proceeded to throw them out as quietly as possible so I wouldn't have to A) hear a litany from my mother on treating the Book of Mormon sacredly, and B) argue with her about why she needed that many. I also found four plastic eagle heads, which she said were mementos from my brothers' Eagle Courts of Honour. Who really needs four tacky, plastic eagle heads which don't even make good bookends?? This doesn't even begin to get into the artwork of mine she's kept over the years, or the pile of magazines she doesn't read, or the endless mountain of school supplies she purchases every year on sale, stores in her closet, and then forgets where they are, so she is forced to go buy more school supplies next year. I could go on and on....

My siblings and I take turns working on my mother. We used to assume that her hoarding tendancies were the result of growing up with parents who had gotten married during the Great Depression. We figured that compulsive need to store things away for "just in case" had to come from somewhere. But recently I too had seen some TV specials on hoarding and OCD and I think my mother could benefit from seeing them. Or perhaps reading this article. In any case, I found it quite interesting, and I'm sure I'll be linking it from my own blog and journal.

#18 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 03:12 PM:

Jim notes:

". . . plus the myth I entertain that selling them to a used bookstore will get the books into a 'good home'. It's harder to just drop them off at the Goodwill store."

Argh, that sounds familiar. I actually *buy* extra copies of books I like from thrift stores. ("Someone I know would appreciate this copy of _Confederacy of Dunces_, and it's only a buck . . . ooooh, a copy of Dyson's _Weapons and Hope_ for a quarter! Someone would appreciate that . . .")

I just recently cleaned out my "give away to someone who would appreciate it" pile, by donating it to a book drive at work. Except for the copy of _Confederacy of Dunces._ Any takers? #B^)

I also have, in the back of a closet, a couple of boxes of old game magazines. "The Dragon," "White Dwarf" and the like. Probably worth a fair bit of change, but the WORK involved in bagging and auctioning them all off is daunting. So I'm hanging on to them. If I'm ever laid off, I'll take the time sell the stuff off.

#19 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 03:23 PM:

Just found the link for the story of where Sierra came from:

#20 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 06:03 PM:

Teresa has, of course, touched a sensitive spot on her readers: I doubt many of you live in that kind of clean underfurnished we-just-moved-from-a-much-smaller-space environment that I encounter when I take my son to playdates in the Westchester suburbs. Much more likely, if you are reading this, you have too many books, and maybe some paintings you bought at con art shows stacked behind the door, etc.

In a very literal sense, she's talking about _other people_. But in her subtext, she's talking about us: What if your stuff had feelings? Are you really "rescuing" those books? Or are they going to get water damaged and moldy at your house? Is anyone really going to read that reading copy of a good book you picked up at Books & Food?

Or--in advanced cases--are those remainders you bought _really_ going to be sold or given away to people who will appreciate them? And I'm sure there are representatives of other households containing cartons of remainders here! (My household is part of that elite group that added on to the house to make room for more books. Plus, we have 2 off-site storage rooms.)

Regarding pet breeders: I am less sure than some of you that "reputable breeders" never become hoaders. My mother has recently gotten into competitive dog agility. She went to see a number of breeders when seeking to aquire a second dog. What she told me about the experience leads me to believe that there is a lot of gray area there.

Below the level of the charismatic megafauna of the pet world, at the level of,say, fish, the legally sanctioned industrial breeding and trade has a high attrition level.

#21 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 08:49 PM:

I think our books are breeding.

#22 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 10:15 PM:

I simply don't know enough about the pet trade to have an opinion on Kathryn's comments about it, but I have to agree with her about the rest. I read this sort of article, and I do see myself, or at least I strongly see the potential for me to become like this. Teresa, your timing posting was good reinforcement for my resolve to continue the clearing-out project I embarked on a while back.

#23 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 10:58 PM:

I've got lots of books, and my fare share of remainders.

Books, collectibles and whatnot don't have feelings. I think it's wrong to destroy them, or store them improperly, but that's me speaking as an antiquarian, living in a part of the country where we don't have high humidity causing things to rot while you look at them.

Pets are different. The reputable breeders I know follow a fairly strict code of not having more dogs than you can care for and seeing that the pets they sell go to a good home. A common thing is a "no resale" clause in a contract with the breeder--if you suddenly cannot care for your pet, it goes back to the breeder who'll try to find a new home. (If you want someone else to adopt your dog, you can make arrangements with the breeder, but they have the final say on what is a proper home.)

We got one of our dogs when I was a child that way--the breeder called us, telling us that the littermate of our dog had come back, and would we like a second pet, free.

The other dog I have right now was gotten a similar way: I contacted whippet rescue, but there were no dogs needing adoption, as well as a long waiting list. However, there was a dog breeder with a three-year-old she loved, but was wanting to have another litter of puppies, and so was willing to sell to a good home for cheap (compared to the price of a puppy). Same deal with not selling or giving her away.

That's the hallmark of a reputable breeder.

#24 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 02:23 AM:

De-lurking again to mention that another notable thing about reputable breeders is that they generally *require* you to sign a contract saying that you will desex your pet (if that hasn't already been done). No geometric progression of unmanageable baby animals.

The breeders we have dealt with (for our 2 purebred, non-rescue cats) interviewed us thoroughly, asking for vet references, making sure we could provide for the animals (food, vet bills, etc), making sure we knew what we were getting into and were not likely to ditch the cats or mistreat them. They encouraged us to visit their homes, see the kitty parents, see the facilities, and talk to other people who had cats from them. And, as Kevin mentioned, they did put in the contract that they must approve any transfer of ownership. Honestly, getting a house was easier and didn't involve interstate travel. :)

That said, part of the reason we were encouraged to see the facilities is that the breeders themselves are aware that many, many people advertising as breeders (and registered with the relevant associations, etc) are much closer to that thin line that Kathryn mentioned.

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 12:42 PM:

It's nice to hear that there are truely concerned breeders out there but:

Reaching for new lows in euphamisimosity:

'desex your pet.'

"Um . . . so, what is it?"

"It's a nice healthy German shepherd puppy."

"Yessss, but is it a boy or girl puppy?"

"Oh, it's nothing in particular."

"So, what do we name . . . it?"

"Whatever you want. Chris, Pat, Murphy . . ."

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 05:07 PM:

Books are a problem.

(When Feorag and I moved in together and merged our book collections we discovered that (a) we had two copies of a book by Douglas Adams, and (b) we needed more bookcases. It's only gotten worse since then.)

But I have a real problem with *weird* stuff. Someone, please, tell me it's okay to throw out the stencil duplicator? We've had it for eight years since it was donated to us by some other fans. I have no intention of putting out a paper zine any decade soon, and Feorag, for her part, has a colour laserjet. We are not stencil duplicator fans. Arguably, duper fandom is dead and gone; hell, if an impecunious fan were to hit on me for printing kit to pub their ish I would source them a working laser printer and laptop instead. Yet some atavistic urge tells me, "if you stick it in the trash you'll feel *so* guilty ..."

And don't get me started on the dysfunctional foot massager, the stack of Psions, or the MicroVAX ...

#27 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 06:38 PM:

I've been in a garbage house belonging to people close to me, people I love.

A place where books and papers are hoarded is very different from a garbage house. The former can be an embarrassment. The latter is a kind of tragedy.

#28 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 11:26 PM:

Charlie: we pay monthly rent on a storage locker in New Jersey which contains, among other things, our old Gestetner.

Obviously a variety of insanity. And yet.

#29 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 03:02 AM:

There's always the chance that the whole internet world is an illusion, that computers will all die a simultaneous death, and that I will fit back in my 1970s clothes.


#30 ::: PFish ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 03:31 AM:

Sadly, there was another case of collectoritis announced on the news tonight here in Sandy Eggo. A guy with sixteen live dogs and several cats in a small yard--and two dog corpses. He hasn't been arrested yet, and I wonder what they are planning to do with him.

#31 ::: PFish ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 03:34 AM:

BTW, when I say the guy hasn't been arrested yet, that was the way they announced it on the news. As if they were planning on arresting him for cruelty to animals. I don't know if it would do any good or not. On one hand, I'm thinking maybe it would shake him up and bring him to his senses...unless it is the OCD type of collectoritis. Then maybe it would behoove somebody to get him some medical help. (Not certain who that somebody should be though.)

#32 ::: Myke ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 10:47 AM:

My wife attempts to hoard horses. Good news for me, since that's only slightly more expensive than collecting antique aircraft.

And our books are DEFINITELY breeding.

#33 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 12:22 PM:

I find long distance moves very bracing as incentive to scrape away some of the barnacles of accumulated kipple. At this point, *all* our stuff fits in our apartment. We have no rented storage locker anywhere. Though, in addition to the incentive of the move, the technology of the Flylady system made it possible to act on that incentive. We spent a lot of time incrementally going through our clutter and deciding what we didn't really need any more. (It's much easier to let go of things if they're going to a good home; it's even easier if you visualize having to move them 1,200 miles.) It's true that the collecting urge doesn't go away on it's own, but it's possible to do a fair bit of bailing out to balance the tide. I'm continuing to get rid of stuff as we unpack here. Three bags went off to Goodwill last week. It feels so nice to be rid of them.

Charlie, I think I may be able to top most anything you have in the category of weird stuff. Not personally, but a friend of ours had in bachelor days lumbered himself with a DEC PDP 11. It took up the southern half of a fairly long foyer. Jordan wouldn't part with it -- it was DEC's only forray into 16-bit processing after all, a very special machine, and still capable of being powered up -- unless he knew it wasn't going to be scrapped. On the other hand, his wife wasn't having it in the new house. Luckily Hal found a group that produced not one but two enthusiasts who were actually willing to pay for it as well as transport the monster away. I believe it wound up in an obsolete tech museum in San Jose. Everybody happy.

#34 ::: stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 12:36 PM:

Ulrika notes:
"I find long distance moves very bracing as incentive to scrape away some of the barnacles of accumulated kipple. ... We have no rented storage locker anywhere."

Good-oh on both counts. My recent move from the Bay Area to Portland resulted in a massive shedding of books, musty old papers, crappy hand-me-down furniture, clothing, and miscellaneous kipple (thank you, PKD).

I actually considered renting a garage in my new complex, then thought . . . "is the stuff I'd put there *worth* an extra $75 a month?" I managed to get everthing into the apartment, and have room in the storage space for a small tool shop.

#35 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 02:14 PM:

Yarn, man. Leftover yarn from finished or abandoned knitting seems so wasteful to throw it away. And maybe it will come in handy someday...yeah, that's the least those spacebag things keep it all shrunk down and moth/dust free.

re 'desexed': I checked the contracts and that is indeed the word they both used. FWIW.

#36 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Stephanie -

oooh. Spacebags. I don't have any yet, but my brief stint cohabiting with a functioning teevee left me with unalloyed consumer lust for them. I have such an absurd excess of clothes that it would actually make sense to be able to shrink-flatten the off-season stuff. I also lust in my heart for one of those keen-looking flip-folders so you can get all your folded laundry to a uniform size. This, I suspect, is what the Brits mean by "sad".

With yarn -- know anyone who's actively working on projects, or just learning to knit or crochet? Maybe you could pass some on to them. When we moved I gave away fully 3/4 of my fabric stash. (Yes, even with the move, I wasn't able to part with all of it. The fabulous rayon sari fabric *will* be a stunning Regency ballgown some day.)

Stefan - Okay, how did Phil Dick help you shed stuff? Am I confused?

#37 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 03:33 PM:

Getting rid of yarn/wool/buttons/fabric/miscellaneous non-toxic craft supplies:

Step one: find a primary school teacher. Preferably one who is underfunded (these are not difficult to come across).

Step two: Say "I have some fabric (or buttons, or yarn, or whatever) that have been taking up space in my cupboard. Do you think you might be able to use it in one of your art projects?

Step three: find a way to transport the sundries to the school. This can involve several trips on the bus. This can involve giving the primary school teacher your address so that she or he can come get it.

If all of the primary school teachers in your area are well funded, or if you can't find one, this method will also work with After School groups, Community Craft Groups, and Groups of Little Old Ladies and Gentlemen who meet at Churches and Make Things.

#38 ::: Janice ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 04:02 PM:

I feel y'all's pain w/r/t yarn accumulation. I *hate* to get rid of yarn.

Add the spinning fiber to that, and you can end up with a Big Pile O' Stuff really quickly.

At least I've gotten to where I can let go of books. AAUW book drops are my friend.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 05:18 PM:

"Okay, how did Phil Dick help you shed stuff? Am I confused?"

By coming up with a name for useless life-consuming clutter: kipple.

Harkening back to the original topic of this thread: By nailing down the "cat lady" phenomena with a name, its been transferred from a sad but ignorable eccentricity into something, well, actionable. "Animal hoarding" clearly commicates that the activity is a pathology done for the benefit of the afflicted.

#40 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2003, 07:59 PM:

When Robert Crumb's friend Marty Pahls passed away (tragically, in my opinion -- the introductions he was writing to Fantagraphics's Crumb set were fantastic; not that that's the only reason it's a shame), Crumb had the job of going through his stuff, and had to throw away mountains of papers.

After that, the cartoonist writes, he went back home and threw away mountains of stuff that -he- had, not wanting anyone else to have to go through what he went through. (I have heard that Mr. C. has a collection of rare 78s that takes up just one shelf, and when he gets a new one, he looks through them to see what he can get rid of. My hat's off to that feat, which I will probably never duplicate in any fashion.)

Motivated by the anecdote, I got rid of a couple boxes worth, and resolved to do much, much more. I'm still resolved, just not doing.

(Kipple. Sigh. Thanks, Dick.)

#41 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 02:24 AM:

When my grandparents moved out of the great barn of a house that they'd had all the time I was growing up, one of the things they did was send my grandfather's collection of petroleum geology journals to a library somewhere. He had complete runs from 194x to present of several different such; it came to about twenty-four boxes' worth. They also shed a whole bunch of furniture and miscellaneous papers and articles

And yet, a couple years later, after my grandfather had died, there was still a garageful of boxes to be sorted through...

#42 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 11:11 AM:

It was truly weird to read that post after just finishing reading Harriet the Spy to my 6.75-year-old. One of the people Harriet spies on is Harrison Withers, a man who has many, many cats. In the book, they are all well cared for, of course, but Harrison Withers is nonetheless busted at some point (off screen) by Animal Control. They take the cats away, leaving him totally depressed but not under arrest. However, by the end of the novel, he has acquired a new kitten.

Somehow, though I have read many news articles about pet hoarders, I never before thought of Harrison Withers in that context. Now I expect always will. I'm really glad we read that book before I read Teresa's post.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 02:44 PM:

Ulrika: our PDP-11 went to a good home. (See! I'm working on it!)

However, the ICL One Per Desk is staying. At least until I get the monitor back from Nojay, and fixed, and can test it out properly again and clean it up and find a proper museum to donate it to -- it's rare enough that even ICL's in-house museum doesn't have one.

#44 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 03:06 PM:

I think hoarding and garbage houses happen more than we know, my husband is an assets manager overseeing 200-300 units and at least four of them qualify as garbage houses. There may be some oddness in the neighborhood, or some other demographic that unbalances the sample... but still, what if one in every one hundred apartments is a garbage house? Crazy!

#45 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 04:27 PM:

Maybe this is stupid. But thinking more about the hoarders and garbage houses, the terrible costs to lives and property, and wondering about how to know (and potentially intervene) earlier, it occcurs to me that one of the common threads seems to be getting utilities cut off.

I know it's probably impossible in these days when states are cutting kids off from health/day care, but maybe there should be some sort of coordination between utility companies and city/county services, so that someone is sent out to check on a property when utilities get cut off.

Just a thought.

#46 ::: Anna Moss ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 07:03 PM:

My own sad version of this affliction is the hoarding of dead rock star's houses. Why, just in the past year, I've tried to buy two former Cobain residences. Foiled by stingy owners, I resorted to buying the houses with the same street numbers, in different cities.


This was a move up from buying cars and motorcycles that had appeared in low budget films.

I needed room for the rescue greyhounds...

#47 ::: Anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2003, 08:15 AM:

One problem I have with this animal hoarding stories--I don't think all animal hoarders fall into the animal abuse category.

I know of two animal hoarders--one is the mother of a friend and I gather she fits the bill of someone who is mentally ill and abuses her animals. The other one is a woman who worked at the gym I used to visit and we usually chatted. She'd show me pictures of some of her 30-something cats and they all looked healthy. The room where they were wandering around looked clean. She would talk about how she had to constantly work to keep the house clean, so she didn't seem to be in denial about the problem. She once brought one of her cats to the gym because she had taken him to the vet for a shot and he seemed healthy. If this woman ever becomes
seriously ill things might get out of hand very quickly, given that there are dozens of cats in her home. But I think the picture painted here of animal hoarders is possibly too extreme, unless by sheer chance one of the two hoarders that I know about is a much better caretaker than most. This is not to deny that there is a problem in a great many cases, including the other person that I mentioned.

On the subject of books, I'm a hoarder and there is a minor problem here, but unless you spend more than you should and have a place which is a fire hazard I don't think it amounts to much. I think people who only own a few books have a much bigger problem, unless of course they are avid library users. Somehow I doubt that is usually the case, unless the person is an avid reader and also poor.

#48 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2003, 01:16 PM:

Regarding hoarding books:

"On the subject of books, I'm a hoarder and there is a minor problem here, but unless you spend more than you should and have a place which is a fire hazard I don't think it amounts to much."

Anything can be overdone. There was a case in Los Angeles a few years back of a public service worker who had died intestate, and when authorities went to clear out his house they found it stacked to the ceilings with books. There were only narrowlittle paths between the stacks, otherwise the the house was crammed to the rafters with first editions, dating back the for the guy's lifetime. Only, they were in terrible shape. The stacks were covered with plastic, because apparently he'd refused to spend any money on fixing the roof, but the rain that had gotten in had left many books mildewed, warped, and water damaged. And since the guy had left no will, the salvageable portion of the collection wound up broken up, anyway. Admittedly, books aren't living creatures, but neither they nor their owner wound up better off for the exercise.

#49 ::: Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2003, 02:17 PM:

Amazed that no one has yet mentioned the Collyer Brothers of NYC, owners of what we could think of as the Ur-Garbage House, right here in NYC. See for the basic, accurate (if a little too cutesy) rundown and an unexpectedly comprehensive bibliography of articles that came out at the time (1947).

#50 ::: claire ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2003, 02:13 PM:

I am reminded by this thread of a manic session many years ago when I had to help my (now ex) husband go through 10, count 'em, 10, large shopping bags. And what was in these bags? Literally thousands of restaurant napkins that had been folded into precise one by two inch parcels with a rubber band around each. One of his clients had died and he was a book and paper packrat. There had been some valuable correspondence in the junk (the guy had worked for The Times for over 40 years) that was found and sent on to the family but no one knew if there was anything contained in these packages. Maybe there were diamonds? National secrets that he had smuggled out of the newsroom? The secret to life-long happiness and wealth? Nope, just wayyyyyy too many of little OCD bundles of joy. And the lawyer for the estate (and his very grumpy wife) had to open every damned package. Funny how you manage to put that little memory out of your head.

--claire (who is resolved to conquer the Closet of Doom now)

#51 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2003, 08:32 AM:

I kept waiting for someone to refer to "mongrel hoards."

#52 ::: Eliot Gelwan ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 08:52 AM:

I've commented on Teresa's observations from my persepctive as a psychiatrist who treats some of these people, on my weblog Follow Me Here at the above URL.

#53 ::: Martin G. Larsen ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2003, 08:42 AM:

The "Cat Lady" scenario is not pretty. I've had the dubious pleasure of seeing it firsthand. Two years ago, I lived in this really nice neighbourhood. All white-painted wooden houses, cobbled streets and antique victorian-style streetlights. All the other houses in the neighbourhood were very well-maintained and spotless, except for the house across from me. It was slowly sliding into the more advanced stages of disrepair. Paint peeling, garbage piling up in the backyard, holes in the roof, a rotten balcony that fell down one winter morning. The house stood out on the street like dead branch on a living tree. The curtains were always drawn, and we would occasionally hear the old lady who lived there arguing with her alcoholized and presumably also psychotic lover about the cats, and how he hated what they did to the bed.

Every now and then the cats would escape through an open window, or sneak out when she opened the door. We somehow never made the connection between the meowing coming from her house and the high proportion of cats in our street. We kept seeing these skinny cats, often with wounds and mangy fur. We figured they were strays or street cats. We never twigged to the fact that there were so many of them, and that new ones seemed to keep coming.

In the end, someone did, though. When Animal Control raided her house, they found, over fifty cats. Several of them were so sick they couldn't even be moved and had to be put to death on the spot. I remember leaving the house that afternoon, just as some of the cages were being carried out. I'm going to spare you the gruesome details, but I haven't stopped feeling guilty about what I saw. I probably won't.

And what happened then was that she fell through the cracks between the floorboards of Norwegian law. She was sentenced to twenty-one days in prison, a 2000 kroner fine (less than 300$) and could not keep cats for the next five years. She never received treatment for her illness, and before I moved out of the house a few months later, kittens had begun appearing in the street again. I don't know what happened after that, but I think she died a year ago, shortly after Animal Control raided her house again, this time finding "only" eight cats in the same conditions.

#54 ::: Linda ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 08:31 PM:

OMG! So THAT'S my problem! I only have paths I can walk that lead from room to room. Clothing, knick knacks, crystal, electronics, computer parts, disposable tablewear, plastic bags, shoes, extension cords, jewelery, labels, stationary, office supplies, china, pillows, curtains, drapes, lightbulbs, lamps, tools, fans, pictures, candles, games, rugs, ashtrays, silverware, plates, glasses, sunglasses, floral arrangements, wall decor, mirrors, keyrings, storage containers, shelving units, universal remote controls, cdplayers, cd's, books, nylons, socks, underclothes, belts...I could go on for waay more than my share of time and space. Now, it's time to get some help. I can't live like this any longer!

#55 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2003, 10:15 PM:

Oh my god. Yes, that's a known affliction, there is hope, you can get help, and it isn't your fault that it happened in the first place.

Good luck to you, and don't be a stranger, okay?

#56 ::: Jessica ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 09:23 AM:

My mom is exactly like this her house is so messy that she refuses to invite me over anymore it's been like that for two years. She once had to go without running water for a month because it took her so long to clean the house to have a plumber come look at it. She has 8 cats they are well cared for and she takes them to the vet but her house is so messy. Anytime I try to help her she denies their is a problem and that she is just to busy to clean the house even though she doesn't work. My younger sister still lives with her and can't make her throw anything away or give away some of the cats. Do you guys have any suggestions on what I can do to help her without ruining or relationship?

#57 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2003, 02:47 PM:

I truly don't know. What kind of an area does she live in? Are there social services? Would they understand that this is an illness, and not just moral dereliction?

In any area, there are public servants who deal with the aftermath of situations like this. You might want to start by finding out who they are, and ask their advice. "Services for the elderly" is a good bet. If all else fails, see whether there's someone who does community outreach for the fire department or the police. They tend to run into these situations.

If at any point you realize that the person you're talking to doesn't understand what you're asking, try to get out of it gracefully, then try somewhere else.

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