All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cat Hoarder

Dear Marie,
There is an older woman who lives on our street who I believe may have more cats than she can handle. When I walk past her home, I can smell a strong cat box smell that seems to be coming from within the house. The windows and doors are always closed, but I can see numerous cats and kittens on every windowsill and I can’t even count how many different individuals I’ve seen. I have knocked on her door on several occasions to check and see if she is OK. But she only cracks the door open a bit and insists that she is fine. On each occasion when the door opens, I am almost unable to breathe without getting ill due to the stench. I have seen recent news stories about people like her and I can only imagine what conditions lie within her home. I am worried about the cats, but I am also worried about her. Who should I call that would have the authority to check up on her?
I prefer to remain anonymous.

Dear Reader,
You seem to be describing a classic case of animal hoarding. I have been saddened recently, to see similar individuals treated like criminals on TV news broadcasts because what they are doing, though clearly neglectful to the animals in their care, originates from serious mental illness and not an intent to do harm. Animal collecting is a known mental disorder and not criminal behavior. Those who are afflicted should be treated with compassion, as they have no idea that they are neglecting their animals – they are simply out of control.

Nevertheless the health of your neighbor, as well as the health of the animals in her home, is in jeopardy. The strong smell you encountered upon the opening of her door is a likely indicator that she is no longer able to keep up with feces and urine produced by her cats. I have been involved in cases with collectors where home interior conditions had become so unmanageable that feces and urine covered every surface of flooring, counters, furniture, sinks, tubs, beds, and everything else. Yet, somehow, the collectors were able to overlook the horrifying environments.

Your neighbor is unwilling to accept your help and I doubt that you would be able to assist her on your own. She will not want to part with any of her “children” - and I use that word specifically because that is usually how strongly collectors feel about each and every one of their pets, even though they cannot maintain adequate levels of care.

On the outside chance that she did accept your offer to find homes for most of her pets, she would only start her collection again within a very short amount of time. For those affected by this disorder, it is impossible to ignore the hoarding compulsion. She needs professional assistance.

I would strongly recommend calling the County’s office for adult mental health and advise the health officer on duty about what you have observed and what you suspect. He or she can look into your concerns about your neighbor’s home and condition and make an evaluation. Animal control could be called as needed.

It is important to call adult mental health services first, because its staff is properly trained in this sort of situation, whereas animal control officers and/or police may or may not have a full understanding of the disease and could possibly treat your neighbor as a criminal, as we have seen so often on TV. By having adult mental health services personnel on the scene, animal control/police can be advised how to proceed with appropriate sensitivity to both the animals and the human being.

Without a special permit, most cities allow three cats per household. Even homes that are granted a special permit to have more than three cats, must demonstrate the ability to provide adequate care for their charges. Clearly, you neighbor has surpassed the legal limit. But the most important issue here is not the violation of law, but rather the health and welfare of her cats and her. Thanks for caring.

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