Ronald Ulfohn, DVM
Some people can't say no to a lost or hungry animal. "I can be their hero," they think. And they are, for a time. Until the sheer number of animals begins to tax the savior's abilities and resources, urine fumes, rampant parasites and matted hair become the norm. The savior unwittingly becomes the oppressor.
An example of this situation has recently come to light here on the Island. And now, the overpopulated menagerie is being dismantled. More than 50 animals: dogs, cats, goats and pigs are receiving appropriate veterinary care and moving toward foster, and eventually permanent homes on the Island.
Vashon Island Pet Protectors' (VIPP) prodigious network of donors and foster caregivers is being stretched thin. The sudden influx has tripled the current population of animals under VlPP's auspices. I urge you to donate what funds you can, and consider giving a temporary or permanent home to these needy pets.
I don't know too many particulars about the recent Island case, but this kind of scenario is all-too-familiar to me. Animal hoarding is usually the endstage of a misguided attempt to help stray or unwanted pets. The hoarder is an animal lover who begins rescuing pets. The initial altruistic desire is genuine.
The hoarder differs from the multi-pet owner in the addictive nature of their acquisitions. As the hoarder acquires animals beyond their means of adequate care, rescuing becomes a selfish act. Delusional rationalization allows the hoarder to remain convinced they are doing the animals a great favor. The hoarded animals live in increasingly unhealthy, unsanitary conditions.
Back in Virginia, I visited the home of a client who was a self-confessed cat hoarder. My eyes began to burn immediately upon entering. My host was unapologetic about the ammonia stench. So many cats in need, it was hard to keep up, she would say. Small wire and plastic cat cages on multi-leveled shelving like so many books. In the dim light, what I mistook for tattered carpeting turned out to be linoleum covered by a two-inch layer of loose hair.
What's wrong with hoarding? As any kennel owner or scrupulous breeder can tell you, every additional animal in a given space requires that much more rigorous sanitation. It becomes increasingly difficult to control the spread of transmissible diseases (i.e., viruses, parasites, bacteria) as population increases. Thus, time available for proper cleaning becomes a limiting factor.
Responsible pet care includes budgeting your resources. Proper food and veterinary care need to be included in your calculations.
And then there is the more nebulous quantity called love. We would all like to believe that our capacity to love our pets is infinite. But how thinly can you spread that love? I don't pretend to know. I do feel that in an expanding population, at a certain point the amount of love reaching each animal begins to flicker and dim. Kind of like sunlight as you move towards the Earth's poles.
There comes a point when a home with a growing population of pets stops being a loving home. It slips into being an institution, a monument to pet care rather than actual pet care. None of us wants our sole source of love to come from an institution. And I venture to say that our pets do best in a home where time and love is laid on thick.
Let institutions do their necessary work. Volunteer for an existing institution. Donate
…Editors note! VIPP contacted both Dr. Ulfohn and The Ticket, where the original article was first put into print. Dr.Ulfohn noted to me that the article he gave to the Ticket with a number of more than 130 animals at the Island location may have been too high. Dr.Ulfohn suggests that he is more comfortable now with the number being over 50 animals. What we do know is that several animals have died as a result of the neglect/abuse, even after they were rescued. The owners are unwilling to cooperate to allow anyone in to their home to find out how truly horrible the situation is, and to date (February 13, 2000) there has been little official action from King County Animal Control, The King County Health Department, or The King County Department of Land Use and Management (Zoning). We would like to supply all readers with numbers to call to those agencies, but we are crunched for time to get this out to you. You can find the numbers in the phone book, and we can give you these: King County Animal Control, David Morris or Chris Meyer at (206)296-3958. Be persistent, and if they can't/won't respond, ask for a supervisor. You can also try to reach the King County Health Department Rep."Ernie" at the Vashon Courthouse phone: 296-3662; Office of Citizen Complaints Ombudsman: 296-3452; Environmental Health Services: 463-5053 or 296-4820. I would close by asking if there might be an animal lover with some legal expertise that would be willing to do a little Pro Bono service for these tortured animals. Thank you all who have and will support the cause for animal rights.)
REPRINTED FROM THE FEBRUARY, 2000 EDITION OF PAW PRINTS