DR Tania Signal suspects there are a fair few “crazy cat ladies” out there.
The CQUniversity senior lecturer in psychology looks at the link between the deliberate harm of animals and anti-social behaviour and has just released research into animal hoarders.
She presented her research, commissioned by the Department of Biosecurity, at the CQUniversity showcase last week.
While animal hoarding had received attention within psychology, the causes of it were relatively unknown, she said.
She defined hoarders as having a compulsive need to “obtain and control animals, coupled with a failure to recognise their suffering”.
Often this was manifested in a filthy living environment with a powerful stench emanating from numerous cages filled with dogs and cats.
Dr Signal gave the example of a house in Mt Morgan where the authorities found 87 dogs, 100 cats and a couple of goats inside.
However, most hoarders did not start out with the intention of being cruel to animals.
She says it's an under-recognised problem where it's “very hard to get access to the people doing the hoarding”.
She contends that while animal hoarding is viewed as an “animal welfare problem,” the people doing the hoarding are not getting access to the psychological help they need.
She said often a local council intervenes because people complain about “a smell coming from next door”.
But when the council intervenes, the needs of the hoarder are often ignored, she said.
That leads to a high recidivism rate of almost 100% where the hoarders simply move to another isolated community and start hoarding again.
Dr Signal said there were three types of hoarders.
The overwhelmed caregiver who lets the number of animals get “out of control”.
The second type is the rescue hoarder who believes he/she is the only one who can provide care for the animals and has a mission leading to “unavoidable compulsion”.
The last and most dangerous type is the exploiter/hoarder who has sociopathic tendencies, lacks empathy for people or animals and rejects the concerns of outsiders.
Dr Signal said often hoarders had dependants they were looking after as well as animals so their behaviour affected other people.
She said there was a financial cost to dealing with the problem.
One hoarding case in southern Queensland had cost the RSPCA more than the entire cost of dealing with the Hendra outbreak.
This was because of the cost of prosecuting people as well as looking after deprived animals.
Dr Signal said the problem was more widespread than people thought with research indicating animals were involved in one-third of all compulsive hoarding cases.
PROFILE OF AN ANIMAL HOARDER
Definition: someone who has a compulsive need to control animals while failing to recognise their suffering
76% are female
46% are 60 years of age or older
Most are unmarried
Dead or sick animals were discovered in 80% of reported cases
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