Shoring Up Self
Cat “Hoarders” Are Usually Victims of Mysterious Obsession. Nearly 90 cats
had taken over Terry’s home in the Bronx…. The thought of giving up any
of her cats … hurt. “I got so close to the baby cats that I couldn’t give any of
them away … I figured no one else could take care of them like I could.” …
When officers last week entered a Petaluma home filled with about 200 cats,
they found floorboards soaked and warped by urine and feral animals bur-
rowed inside walls. Some of the cats were malnourished or sick. A few had
already died. Barletta told The Chronicle last week that she was trying to find
homes for her cats…. Their numbers simply spiraled out of control. “I know
this sounds bizarre,” she said. “But I’m a rational person.”
—San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 2001
WHEN ADOLESCENTS EXPLAIN their prior cruelty, many are distressed by memories they cannot readily excuse. Although they recall their unsavory behavior as a way to “try on” adult identities, this account does not entirely numb whatever guilt or uneasiness they still feel. Others are indifferent, viewing their memories as unimportant matters that neither help nor hurt their self-image, but they too compartmentalize their former abuse by linking it to a transition out of childhood. They have moved on; memories of abuse are just that. Their sense of self is not based on relationships with animals—whether positive or negative.
Mistreating animals, however, can play a more vital role for the self when people base their entire identity on such harm. It is not a memory of a random event, a lapse in judgment, or “going crazy” but the essence of who they are as people. They use cruelty—or how they redefine it—to build their sense of self, define their purpose in life, and most important, console themselves that what others see as loathsome if not criminal, mentally ill, or pathetic is no such thing. They tell themselves and others that they are decent and kind.
Severe neglect plays a vital role for the self of animal hoarders. Their identities hinge on amassing dozens or even hundreds of cats, dogs, and