Animal hoarding is poorly understood; there has not been enough attention and study given to the syndrome to reach any definite conclusions. However, most authorities agree it is a symptom of psychological malfunctioning and is most likely related to dementia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Animal hoarding cases are starting to garner the attention of the media and many extreme cases are being documented.
Animal hoarders have a 100% relapse rate without counseling
Take the case of serial hoarder Vikki Kittels, this woman has a history of animal cruelty going back decades and spanning the US. Kittels has been an expert manipulator conning help from good Samaritans and evading law enforcement efforts. One frustrated county even gave her the money to buy a tank of gas and leave their jurisdiction.
Her case first came to the attention of authorities in Florida, in 1993, when neighbors complained of the smell and noise coming from the house Kittles was sharing with her 73 year old mother, Jean Sullivan. Neighbors reported having seen Kittles punch one dog and throw another. 35 dogs, three cats, and two horses were discovered living inside the house. Kittles explained the horses were inside to prevent them from being poisoned by the enemy. Kittels was charged with aggravated assault for pulling a gun on a neighbor, animal cruelty and violation of a local ordinance. She fled with her mother and the animals before the trial.
Two years later Kittles’ sister-in-law hired a private investigator to locate the missing mother, Jean Sullivan. Kittles was found in Manatee County, Florida, but law-enforcement agents have never been able to find Sullivan or ascertain what happened to her. Kittles was arrested on outstanding warrants and more than forty cats and dogs were discovered living with her. Kittels spent a few months in jail awaiting trial but she convinced the judge to reduce charges to a misdemeanor and received no fine or jail time.
From Florida Kittels went to Mississippi, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon leaving a trail of conned investors, duped veterinarians, and frustrated officials behind. At one time she was arrested when discovered living in a school bus with 116 dogs, four cats, and two chickens. She has burdened county finances across the country and inspired a number of animal cruelty laws. Read more about this extraordinary case here.
Animal hoarders are repeat offenders
An 80 year old Arizona woman, Lucienne Touboul, will more than likely be charged with animal cruelty after 104 cats were discovered in her home on July 8, 2010. Many of these cats were sick or dying. Authorities also found ten dead cats in her freezer. Touboul reportedly threatened to kill deputies if they touched her cats. Three years ago, Touboul was found with seventy cats in her home. Authorities banned her from owning more animals however, she defied orders.
Overwhelmed animal sanctuary gone wrong
162 dogs, eighteen cats, fourteen chickens, five ducks and two horses were rescued from a no-kill facility in Ohio in February 2010. Other than a few starving puppies hidden in the barn, no puppies or kittens were found; authorities feared the starving animals had eaten them.
Over the last fourteen years the facility called the Humane Sanctuary grew out of control. The owner, Kathy Witzman, was charged with a misdemeanor. One sheriff remarked that he was sure the facility started with good intentions but quickly became overwhelmed.
Animals were visibly suffering from malnutrition, skin disease and mange. There were so many animals one person could not have taken care of them. Witzman was also caring for her 97 year old mother.
Conditions of the property were appalling. The house was wall to wall feces. The smell of ammonia from urine was overwhelming and dangerous. Witzman’s mother had to be removed from the property and transported to the hospital.
Witzman was sentenced to a fine and five years probation plus over two thousand dollars restitution to be paid to the Animal Welfare League. She was also banned from owning animals for the length of her probation period. After sentencing she was reported as saying she worries now that she is shut down, since strays will have nowhere to go.
If you suspect an animal hoarding case
Unfortunately, animal hoarding cases are usually out of control by the time they are brought to the attention of authorities. If you suspect a case of animal hoarding, please, call your local police or animal shelter.