Two hundred cats rescued from perilous hoarding situation in Wantage

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Staff from St. Hubert’s arrived at the home in Wantage and confronted a cat crisis: two hundred felines living in filth. Their owner — elderly, widowed and desperate — had called for help. He spoke to rescuer Jeff Eyre.

“The gentleman is devastated. It’s not the fact that he’s ashamed, I would imagine. He’s a proud man. All this comes out, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I did something wrong.’ No, he did the right thing,” Eyre said.

“He knew that he was not doing right by them, and he knew that he couldn’t anymore due to age and frailty. So while he cried a few tears over the first few cats that left, he knew that that was what he had to do,” said Dr. Karen Dashfield, an emergency response volunteer for St. Hubert’s.

St. Hubert’s took all 200 and cleared one of its four facilities to house them all. The agency had promised not to shame the man.

“He felt empowered to come out to us, as opposed to regressing, hiding in the shadows, feeling that embarrassment, perhaps that persecution. We wanted to ensure that he was going to do the right thing by the animals, which was surrender them to us,” said Kathleen Schatzmann, senior vice president and COO for St. Hubert’s.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund estimates some 250,000 animals, mostly cats and dogs, are victims of hoarding every year, and say 72 percent of hoarders are women. About half hoard other things besides animals. It’s a psychiatric disorder that affects 4 to 6 percent of the population, experts say.

“They think that they’re caring for the animals. They truly believe that the animals are better off in their care. They do not see that they’re neglecting animals. They do not see that the animals are dying, starving,” said Margot Tucker, a hoarding specialist.

“What the animals mean to them is so strong that they often resist help, because they think they’re protecting the animals. So even when animal control comes in, a lot of times there’s resistance and there needs to be some sort of court order to remove the animals,” said Anne Pagano, executive director of the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group.

In this case, the man’s late wife had started collecting cats, Dashfield said. After she died, he fed and watered the cats but quickly became overwhelmed. Most of the kitties are in decent health and they’re responding to gentle therapy. But St. Hubert’s is asking the public, and lawmakers, for support.

“Perhaps there is legislation that can be uniform throughout the state, for cross-reporting, to ensure that there is mental health professionals that can assist folks that are in these situations,” Schatzmann.

Even with treatment, experts say animal hoarders are repeat offenders almost 100 percent of the time. So friends, family and officials need to keep on top of the situation so they don’t end up with a repeat crisis.