You’ve probably heard of hoarding. Maybe you’ve seen a news report, or your neighbor’s mother-in-law has a problem. Someone whose house is impassable, a fire hazard. He or she is a collector of things that would be considered mostly junk to the rest of us, but for some deeply, psychologically inexplicable reason, these things are precious and necessary treasures to that individual. The collection piles up and up, until only narrow passageways are navigable, or not even that. The authorities are called. Television shows are filmed, and we gaze in horror and amazement.
And then there are another breed of hoarders, those who have innocent, voiceless victims as the chosen item of acquisition. There have been studies, and research, and theories. No one seems quite able to pinpoint the exact reason why some people hoard, or why they specifically hoard animals. When it happens, it’s sad, and it’s cruel beyond imagining.
I volunteer with an organization called Red Rover. It’s a support organization that functions like Red Cross. We mobilize to disaster areas, set up temporary shelters, and do care-in-place for displaced animals. We work in conjunction with other animal relief organizations such as ASPCA, HSUS, and others.
My last deployment was a large one. Local sheriffs had confiscated over 200 animals on a rural farm, from a family owned facility that was calling itself a rescue operation. We set up in a large warehouse, not knowing on the first day what to expect. Large trucks finally arrived at midnight, full of sad, frightened, malnourished dogs. All had fleas. Many had skin diseases, ear mites, untreated wounds. Even twenty or so cats. We had been at it all day. We worked through the night. Two hours sleep. Again the next day.
“We worked through the night. Two hours sleep. Again the next day.”
Eventually, we saved all the animals – but one. The owners of this farm thought they were running a “rescue”. It was really a shop of horrors. How could they not see this?
They tell us hoarding is a mental illness. We need to feel compassion for those who suffer from it. As I helped lift dogs on and off the makeshift veterinary tables, assisting vets with exams, some dogs actually wagged their tails, and licked my hand. They knew they had been saved. I’m trying, I am. It’s just hard to feel that compassion some times.
The happy ending: the owners were prosecuted and barred from future ownership. All the pets have new homes. And now we volunteers move on to the next one. I hope we get there in time.
Author’s note: if you would like to assist with Red Rover’s efforts, go to www.redrover.org and you can make a donation to this worthwhile cause. Tara is currently writing an article about her rescue dog Willow, soon to be published in a compilation of stories about rescued animals. She is the mom of many rescued animals, and foster mom of several others, and also two lovely human boys. She holds a B.S. degree in biology and resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.