We were discussing the cases of hoarding that we seem to be seeing in our committee meeting which we held after the TNRM workshop and tea on Saturday. More of such cases seem to be coming to our attention of late, and in most cases it is very difficult to help because the people we have met do not think that what they are doing is wrong. Some are unable to stop themselves picking cats up.
I've been doing up some reading today about this again. Here's a definition of animal hoarding from the Hoarding of Animals research Consortium.
When I was reading up a while ago about this, I read that often hoarders take animals in out of a desire to save them. Then when there are too many animals, they cannot stop, but they cannot cope either. The cats look in very bad condition because they are skinny (often lack of food) and sick because too many cats are packed in together. If they are ill, there is often no money to bring them to the vet. Then when the cats start dying, often there is no money to bury them or get them cremated.
In some cases I read about in the US, people would pile the bodies into the freezer so that they could bury them altogether. By the time people came into investigate, there were many bodies sitting in these freezers. Often the animals are so sick, they have to be euthanised. From what people investigating these cases have found though, people who hoard these animals then feel as if the people who have euthanised the animals are killing their animals - and as a result, they go out and 'rescue' more animals.
The problem is that this may actually be a mental health issue and that solving the results (removing the cats etc) does not go to the root of the problem at all. The thing is that many well meaning people see the cats and then feel so sorry for the cats that they want to help, but this may actually make matters worse.
In some cases I have heard of, people provide food, litter and medical fees. Some even try and rehome the cats. Here's the problem - if this was a situation where a person realises they're in over their head and can stop, this would help to resolve the situation. However often people who hoard cannot stop - and so all that is happening is that these well meaning individuals are enabling hoarders to take in more cats because now the person hoarding has more food and resources.
In essence, these people are enablers - ie helping to enable the hoarding through their own well-meaning behaviour. It's very difficult when you see a case where someone is hoarding - but the question is whether your actions are going to actually help the cats. One woman we know had more than 60 cats and despite everything, kept taking in more and more. We helped her to sterilise some of her cats till we realised she could not stop. We heard that after we stopped, someone else took over.
In some of these cases where there were cats in cages as well, we heard that the person involved just turned around and picked up more cats. So the question to ask really is - will your actions help the cats? Or will it just be a case of different cats being in the same miserable condition somewhere down the line.
How does one stop this behaviour? Honestly it's hard - hoarding doesn't just encompass animals and it seems as if a multi-disciplinary approach may be needed. I'm not sure this would be very high priority in Singapore.