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Piling Up On Pets

Piling Up On PetsPet hoarding may be an attempt to fill voids caused by childhood trauma, according to one Tufts veterinary expert.

No. Grafton, Mass. [10.04.05] Before she was discovered by authorities and charged with five misdemeanors, including animal cruelty, 82-year-old Ruth Knueven was the proud parent of 488 cats. Some were dead, some were sick, and all were removed from her care. But none of Knueven's odd tale shocked Tufts veterinarian Gary Patronek.

"Certainly something in the 500 range would not make me go, ‘Oh, my gosh!'" Patronek, an epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related public health issues, told the Washington Post. "It's not unusual," he added about Knueven's situation. "I mean it's on the high side. But we've seen cases with over 1,000 animals, cats and dogs together."

Hoarding is common with other types of animals, as well, Patronek told the Post.

"We've seen hoarding of just about every kind of domestic animal you can imagine. You name it. There was a case in Florida where a man had a whole house full of exotic vipers. Birds are not uncommon. Dogs, farm animals, rodents..." he explained.

According to Patronek, who founded of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, a group of Boston-based human behavior and animal experts, hoarding pets is not a new problem. But research into the behavior has only begun in the past few years.

According to the Post, Patronek has interviewed nearly 50 hoarders, a group he says can be quite diverse.

A typical hoarder, Patronek explained to the newspaper, is "an older, isolated, economically disadvantaged single woman. But, he added: "It really could be anyone."

"We've had examples of white collar professionals leading double lives," Patronek said to the Post. "Even health care providers or veterinarians who are going to work every day, advising people on proper health [can be hoarders]."

Most of the people Patronek interviewed claim they are trying to protect the animals they are sheltering, according to the Post.

"But we don't think that's really what's going on here," he said.

Patronek explained to the Post that, based on his research, hoarding may be the manifestation of childhood trauma.

"They may have had absent parents or unstable parenting," Patronek said. "Animals were the only stable fixture in their lives. And perhaps they developed unusually strong bonds with their animals."

While they may believe they are rescuing the animals, hoarders are, ultimately, serving their own needs, whether they realize it or not, Patronek told the Post.

"It's really about the animals providing them with something, not vice versa," Patronek said.

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