Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Health Implications of Animal Hoarding: Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC)

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Health Implications of Animal Hoarding: Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC)

Article excerpt

Hoarding behavior in humans can involve pathological self-neglect and is associated with a variety of psychological conditions, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder (OOD) (Damecour & Charron,1998; Frost, Krause, & Steketee,1996). Some evidence exists that elderly people may be disproportionately affected (Steketee, Kim, & Frost, 2001). Animal hoarding is a recently described behavior that shares many features of OCD hoarding but seldom has been considered a symptom of psychopathology (Frost, Steketee, & Williams, 2000; Patronek, 1999; Worth & Beck, 198l).In typical cases, people are living with dozens to hundreds of alive and dead animals in apartments, trailers, and single-family homes (Patronek; Worth & Beck). Lack of insight into the severity of their living circumstances and denial of the risks or harm to animals is common.

This public health problem is believed to occur in every community but is poorly understood (Patronek, 1999). Our experience and studies of news reports (Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium [HARC], 2000) suggest that animal hoarding knows no social or economic boundaries. Although typically identified among unemployed and socially isolated individuals, anecdotal reports indicate that animal hoarding also has been discovered among physicians, veterinarians, bankers, nurses, teachers, and college professors. Employed hoarders appeared to be able to live a double life, with coworkers never suspecting the true conditions in their homes until animal rescue authorities were called to investigate. Despite its seriousness, almost no empirical research exists on this problem (Frost et al., 2000).

Recently, two studies examined animal hoarding. A review of 54 cases initiated by animal care agencies primarily to rescue the animal victims indicated that public health officials who were aware of the problem ignored indicators of clinically significant human health concerns (Patronek, 1999). Ignoring the health concerns was common, despite ample evidence to suggest substantial impairment in functioning of the hoarders, and severely cluttered and unsanitary living environments that posed a threat to human safety and health. In 11 percent of cases, the residences were condemned as unfit for human habitation. In 26 percent of cases the hoarder was eventually institutionalized or placed under some type of protected care, suggesting very serious mental and physical impairment (Patronek).A recurring comment from investigators was that some agencies responsible for monitoring human health concerns had declined to intervene and were unaware of the implications of the behavior. Another study examined cases of hoard ing of possessions generated by complaints from neighbors, police, fire departments, social services agencies, and service personnel to local health departments in Massachusetts. In hoarding cases that involved animals, public health officials reported significantly worse sanitary conditions, threats to individuals' health, and involvement of a greater number of agencies in the investigation (Frost et al., 2000).

These findings support our belief that animal hoarding is a serious public health problem that has received virtually no attention from the clinical or research communities. Findings from case reports (Patronek, 1999) and in-depth interviews of a small number of animal hoarders have suggested various models of psychopathology (HARC, 2000). The study reported in this article provides more information about the degree of impairment of activities of daily living (ADL) associated with animal hoarding, as well as the frequency and severity of effect that this behavior had on the health and safety of household members.

METHOD

Because no single agency is responsible for responding to reports of animal hoarding, we solicited reports from a broad spectrum of people likely to encounter cases of animal hoarding (for example, animal control officers, humane law enforcement or other police officers, public health veterinarians, elder services case workers, and health departments). …

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