Bucks County SPCA Executive Director Anne Irwin says animal hoarders have been around for as long as she can remember, but animal welfare workers have learned more about them during her 39 years with the SPCA. She says they make life very difficult for themselves and the animals they hoard. Some also hoard trash and, as a result, they present a public safety hazard.
“Many of these places are real fire traps, and when first responders have to go and help it’s a dangerous situation, it’s dangerous to neighbors, and it’s difficult to resolve because it’s kind of secret.”
She says she has seen more hoarding in the last few years than she saw back in the 1970’s, and they start in different ways.
“Some of them start as breeders. Some of them start out just loving animals and rescuing them. Some of them start with just two pets and then, not getting them neutered, they end up with a whole houseful.”
She says at one time they thought hoarders were just crazy people, but over the years they have found a pattern, and most of them have suffered a loss.
“Someone has died or they’ve spent a long time caring for an ill family member or they’ve had a divorce, and then they become isolated.”
She says conditions usually keep deteriorating because they are living in fear.
“They’re afraid of what’s going to happen if people find out how they’re living, so then some people are actually living in a house with animals and they don’t have running water because they don’t want to call the plumber, or their heater doesn’t work.”
And then, Irwin says, sometimes they buy a kerosene heater, which can be very dangerous because the trash provides an enormous amount of fuel for any fire that might start. She appeared recently on the WNPV talk program Legally Speaking.