Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
3 October 1999 Issue

The New Addiction: The Sad Truth About Animal Addicts

By Michelle Rivera, [email protected]

We all shake our heads and agree that the dog and cat overpopulation crisis is a terrible, terrible shame. Well, it certainly is, but do you believe that you can single-handedly stop this tragedy? Some people do, and their solution is to keep extremely large numbers of animals in homes that are ill equipped to contain them. Authorities call these people "collectors".

We all know one. The eccentric "cat lady" or the "savior" with crates upon crates of dogs of every size, shape and color. And even though these kindhearted, benevolent souls undertake this massive effort with the best intentions, most find themselves overwhelmed with labor-intensive, non-stop activity just to keep the animals alive.

Collectors are unable to support the idea of humane euthanasia as a form of controlling overpopulation, and so scores of animals are "rescued" only to deteriorate in filthy, overcrowded and inadequate living spaces. The stress and lack of sanitation in these private homes or so-called "no-kill" shelters are conducive to malnourishment, disease and over-sedentary lives. The collectors themselves can become overwhelmed with unexpected legal and veterinary expenses as well, and the health and welfare of the animals they have taken in slowly deteriorates. The results can be shocking.

Just last week, authorities in New York City arrested a woman and charge her with forty counts of animal cruelty after finding at least forty cats dead or dying in her apartment. Some of the bodies had been placed in her freezer because, as she explained, "She simply couldn't bear to part with them." Most were dead or dying of Feline Upper Respiratory Infection, a common cold to you or I, but potentially fatal in felines. A course of antibiotics for the sick ones, and a few doses of interferon for the remaining cats may have arrested the illness before it got to epidemic proportions, but these medications cost a lot of money, and with forty cats to care for, the expense can be quite substantial and prohibitive.

And here is an excerpt from a PeTA Cruelty Investigators' report:

"New York state investigators called to the Animals Farm Home found hundreds of starving, mange-infested dogs crowded into dark, unventilated barns. Fed only moldy bread and water, the dogs were cannibalizing each other out of hunger. More than 175 of the animals were too ill to be saved, and more than 200 required emergency veterinary care. "

Our hearts go out to these people because we know that they truly believe that they love animals. And in some respects, on some level, they do. They go into a kind of denial and they don't recognize starvation and disease even as the animals suffer before their very eyes. Indeed, it could happen to any one of us who have ever looked into the eyes of a desperate animal and had our hearts and spirits broken because we just can't take him or her home.

Yet, I always become just a bit wary when I hear the words "I love animals" because I know that this phrase could mean a medley of things to so many people. I much prefer to hear "I respect animals" because keeping mass quantities of animals in cages or even loose in small dwellings is pretty darn disrespectful, degrading and humiliating to the animals. They are worthy of so much better.

However, companion animals forced to exist in stacked, tiny cages without the benefit of loving camaraderie and socialization suffer abject depression. Their misery and loneliness is as acute as that of a laboratory animal. Sometimes, there is a fate worse than death, and these animals are viable proof of that.

According to PeTA, "... collectors allow animals to take over their homes and lives so completely that they lose contact with friends and family. Collectors often find themselves isolated and psychologically dependent on their animals, and they need and cling to them to the animals' detriment. "

Veterinarians and psychologists who study "animal addicts" have found that this is classic substance abuse behavior. Some of the traits that alcoholics and drug addicts share with animal addicts include repetition of the addictive behavior; excuses for the behavior, denial that their personal, physical and environmental conditions are unclean, the belief that they are being persecuted or misunderstood; the presence of financial supporters who feel they are helping a "good cause"; denial that the addiction exists; isolation from those friends, family or co-workers who are not "into animals", and sometimes, even abuse of animals through dereliction.

What You Can Do
Let your local humane society/animal rights organization or animal control authorities know if you suspect there is a collector in your neighborhood. Together you may be able to work out a solution.

Aggressively lobby your local politicians for legislation that requires licensing, inspection, and regulation of both private and public animal shelters.

When you hear of a huge confiscation of animals by local authorities, show up at the shelters and offer to walk, groom and play with the animals; shelter workers are usually overwhelmed in the face of a large confiscation.

Don't always believe that No-Kill shelters are the best place to surrender an animal. Accept that humane euthanasia is a necessary evil in the world today.

Do not "judge" the collector once you have identified them. Win their confidence with understanding and approval, and offer to take some of the animals into protective custody so as to alleviate the burden. Once you have them, you can place them in foster homes, coordinate their adoption with local authorities, or have them tested for terminal diseases. [Editor's Note: Encourage, demand, do whatever you have to, but persuade the collector to spay/neuter so that the animals they do have, don't multiply.]

Remember, that collectors are just people like you and I. They just never learned to say "no", and their hearts, if not their judgment, is in the right place.

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