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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

Animal hoarding often leads to heartbreak

 •  Adoptables

By Leslie Kawamoto

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Hawaiian Humane Society staff unloaded some of the 45 cats that were found in an apartment in February. The owner was given warning citations for animal cruelty.

Photos courtesy the Hawaiian Humane Society

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Animal cruelty investigator Vernon Ling processes some of the 45 cats that were found at the Mililani apartment.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

An ailing cat receives treatment from a shelter worker.

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Animal hoarding is horrible. A recent case on O'ahu is an example of how bad things can get.

In February, a landlord at the Waikalani Apartments in Mililani called the Hawaiian Humane Society for help. The tenants who were evicted left behind their 45 cats. The apartment was filthy and the cats were without food or water.

"When we arrived on scene we observed most of the cats to have upper respiratory infections, minor dehydration and were very hungry," said Keoni Vaughn, manager of Field Services at the Hawaiian Humane Society.

Since then, the veterinary team at the animal shelter has assessed the cats' medical conditions and treated their illnesses. The cats' ages range from 3 months old to 8 years old. Some of these cats are now available for adoption.

The tenants were not prosecuted in this case.

"Criminal prosecution of this type of cruelty can be very difficult and a lengthy process, which we felt for this instance as not being the most effective route," said HHS spokeswoman Jacque LeBlanc. "Negotiation is a huge part of what we do in working with pet owners to do the right thing. The owners were asked to give up the cats so they could be treated and given new homes. They were given 45 warning citations for animal cruelty."

According to the ASPCA, "What may begin as a refuge for a handful of homeless animals can over time become a highly unsanitary environment where animals live without food, water and veterinary care, including sterilization. These situations often come to light only when the situation has deteriorated to the point that the animals are suffering severe neglect or have died from untreated ailments or starvation."

Animal hoarding is a severe mental illness, which can include obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia, delusional thinking and paranoia, according to the ASPCA. Hoarders feel the need to "collect" animals without thinking about their benefit or welfare.

The ASPCA says there are about 900 to 2,000 reports of animal hoarding every year in our country that involve more than 250,000 animals. It's not only cats and dogs, but even reptiles, rodents, birds and farm animals are hoarded.

Here are some signs of a hoarder:

•  Collects a large number of pets and does not provide the animals with proper nutrition, sanitary living conditions and veterinary care and sterilization.

•  Is in denial. Even though there are signs of illness, hoarders think their animals are happy and healthy.

•  Believes it's better for their animals to live in poor conditions than to be euthanized.

•  There are multiple complaints from neighbors about odors emanating from a dwelling.

Hoarding is difficult to prosecute because it's a psychological illness. Prosecution rarely works because once a hoarder is released, the person will continue to collect animals. "Hoarders are like drug addicts you cannot cure them, you can just prevent relapses," said Dr. Randy Lockwood, senior vice president of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Field Services.

When hoarding is prosecuted, judges can require counseling and impose a ban on the person owning animals.

To prevent animal cruelty such as hoarding, residents should be vigilant. If you suspect someone is a hoarder, please call the Hawaiian Humane Society at 356-2250.