Pets, Pets, Pets
Hordes of hoarders! Lately it seems our local news features the discovery of another animal hoarding house each week. Both Nassau and Suffolk have had their share of cases, but the Town of Hempstead appears the center of activity right now. Below is a list of recent, publicized Long Island animal hoarder cases:
*Filthy Farm: The ongoing Nassau SPCA case of 25 malnourished and filthy horses, donkeys, goats , pigs and dogs on a farm in Old Westbury. Yes, Old Westbury.
*Operation Noah’s Ark: Nassau SPCA workers in hazmat suits spent eight hours pulling 400 turtles, cats, dogs, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, chinchillas, skunks, lizards and more from a Bellmore home in June.
*Dirty Dachshunds: Suffolk SPCA removed 27 long-haired Dachshunds from a Hauppauge home after the fire department responded to a kitchen fire, put out by the time the fire trucks got there. The Doxies were trying to exit the smoky home. The owner clad in his bathrobe was arrested for animal cruelty, and many non-family members were found to be living at his house. The Doxies were adopted from Save-A -Pet in Port Jefferson Station and Islip Town Shelter.
*Breathless in Baldwin: Reports of animal cruelty and child neglect were investigated this month in Baldwin. Fifteen small dogs were found stacked up in filthy crates with no food or water. Two young girls were living in this unsanitary home and allegedly roaming the neighborhood looking for food. The children were placed in the care of relatives. The dogs were adopted from Hempstead Town Shelter. The mother faces charges but was sent for a psychiatric evaluation first.
*Fleeing the Fleas: Last week a 79-year old woman called emergency services for help. She was taken to Nassau University Medical Center. Officials found her in a ramshackle home filled with 45 flea-infested, filthy, small dogs. Nassau SPCA responded at the scene. The dogs were signed over to Hempstead Town Shelter. They are housed in an air-conditioned van in the shelter garage and being treated for severe neglect. As with most cases, neighbors have been complaining of the stench for years. In East Meadow some residents say they stay indoors because of rats traveling from this home, now condemned by the Town. The plan is to have the dogs ready for adoption at the shelter this week.
Both of my dogs were victims in hoarding cases uncovered in July. My English Toy Spaniel mix “Charlotte” was one of 27 dogs and 10 cats abandoned in squalor when their Lindenhurst owner went on vacation in July 2003; while my “Edgar Afghan Poe” was one of 67 Afghan Hounds and 25 parrots in a New Mexico home without electricity in July 2008. The Afghans were seized in the middle of the night by Santa Fe Animal Control. Dogs died in both homes.
Why does it appear more hoarder cases are discovered during the summer? For one, the untenable animal crowding becomes more noticeable. Deteriorating quality of life for both the animals and hoarder festers over time throughout the year. Summer heat and open windows amplify the stench, poor air quality and complaints from neighbors. In the Huntington dermatologist case (See Beacon “Pets” 9/16/2010) where about 115 small dogs, mostly Pom mixes, were rescued, the intense ammonia smell of urine set off fire alarms, and alerted authorities to animal atrocities including dead dogs lined up in the sink. The poor dogs were so thirsty they were fighting for the water provided by the firemen. A lame pony, three goats and a cat were also rescued.
The dermatologist and his wife didn’t live at this residence, once part of an estate belonging to George Plimpton’s parents. The doctor and his wife had a home elsewhere. Ironically, the doctor faced one charge of neglect for his pony. Last I checked, he was practicing medicine again. Imagine learning your doctor had been implicated in such an outrageous animal cruelty case.
There is another reason why there have been more hoarder animals seized in Nassau recently. People are realizing cruelty and neglect cases are investigated promptly when they call in an animal concern. This prompts more people to call. Nassau County is unique because, Nassau SPCA (516-843-7722) and the District Attorney’s Animal Cruelty Unit (516-680-8624), two distinct humane law enforcement agencies, are working together to remove the animals from unsafe environments and to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law. This happens when judges cooperate.
Approximately 40% of object hoarders also hoard animals. Psychologists used to think animal hoarding was an obsessive/ compulsive disorder. Current research points to a more complex problem which can also include delusional thinking no one else can care adequately for these animals; a hero complex as the animals’ savior; denial to see the number, or terrible conditions where the animals suffer; an attachment disorder of being more at ease relating to animals than people; depression and paranoia hiding the animals so visitors do not see their unsanitary environment.
A loss or traumatic event can trigger or exacerbate the problem. The person may live with a parent or spouse who enabled, but did limit the hoarding. If that person dies or leaves, the hoarder can lose control. In addition, the hoarder is now the lone caretaker.
Level of care rather than exact number of animals is the primary concern. Someone with resources and staff could own 50 dogs treated like royalty. The situation is worse when hoarders convince the public they run a rescue or sanctuary because kind, yet naive, people keep adding to the animal overload.
Some private sanctuaries and rescues have founders who started with the best of intentions but as these founders age, the rescued numbers climb, the bills mount and the paid staff and/or volunteers disappear, the poor “rescued” animals there become tortured prisoners desperate for liberation and rehabilitation. Please if you know someone struggling with animal hoarding, call your local humane law enforcement agency, police department, animal welfare group or veterinarian to initiate the process.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270)Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Anonymous” is an eight-month-old tabby fellow. “Bubba” 15-172 came in last year with road rash from being grazed by a car. He loves to carry his toys around and pushes them through the cyclone fence in the shelter yard to share with dog friends.