I totally love going to hoarder houses. I get to be all judgmental and point out to myself how much I am totally not a hoarder.
Plus, I find the psychological aspect of it fascinating. I wish I had realized in college that I would be interested in psychology. It would have been really awesome to have a useful major.
You probably have NO idea how many people have a shitload of animals. In general, the reactions are never very positive when you talk about how many cats (or dogs) you have, if you have more than 2. Even 3 cats gets you an “oh, wow. 3, huh? Why do you need 3?”. So when you say you have 10, or 17, or whatever you happen to have……well, let’s just say you would get a less negative reaction if you told someone you were shooting heroin in the bathroom at work. Because of this, most people with multiple pets keep it the fuck to themselves. We have a general number that we use for our lies. Mine is 6, but sometimes I just think it’s none of your damn business.
Generally Nosy Person: “How many cats do you have?”
Me: “um….a lot”.
GNP: “Well, what’s a lot? 4?”
Me: blank stare.
GNP:”What? Like, 10? More than 10? 20?”
Me: “A lot”.
GNP: “Well, like, how many?”
Me: “It’s funny that no matter how many times I refuse to answer your question, you feel comfortable enough to keep badgering me about something that I clearly don’t want to discuss with you”.
GNP: Walks away.
It is noteworthy that actual hoarders often don’t need to be asked how many animals they have. They willingly tell you, before you have asked. They are the martyrs doing “God’s work” and relish telling you all the stinky details. Unfortunately they probably don’t put as much enthusiasm into actually caring for their furry little tenants.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to go to 2 hoarder houses. I don’t always put total stock in it when someone is referred to as a hoarder. It’s not so much about how many you have – it’s really more about how well you are able to function and care for the animals in your home. If you have 50 cats that are healthy and you can manage their well-being (and your own!) you really aren’t a hoarder. If you have 10 cats and everything is a hot mess……well, you are a hoarder. Get on that shit.
Here is a list of some easy ways to know that someone is PROBABLY a hoarder:
1) Hoarder Stench. You can usually smell this as you APPROACH the house. And unlike what you expect, it’s not always just a stench of urine! It’s this weird, very unique smell that is probably some mix of excrement, wet cat food, stale litter, and general filth. Some people smell like this as they roam the world at large, which is just frightening. (A rescuer at the vet once repeatedly (and loudly) asked me if her hair smelled like cat piss. I pretended not to know her). No amount of air freshener can hide Hoarder Stench.
2) Cats aren’t really cats. While hoarders will claim to love animals, it’s not a totally accurate statement. Hoarders see animals as possessions, or some kind of weird mini-human-baby-doll substitutes. At one of the houses, when we walked up to the door, she was holding cat after cat up to the window to “wave” at us. If the smell hadn’t already tipped me off, that would absolutely have done it. Cats don’t want to be dressed up or collected in boxes(cages) like collectibles. They just want to be cats. If you can love them with an actual respect for them as individuals that have feelings or desires, you are probably not a hoarder.
3) GARBAGE. This is prevalent among the “stuff” hoarders, too….and I think that with some cat hoarders, it’s not the cats that are a problem. I think it’s two separate issues. I think that with “stuff” hoarders, there is a sense of being overwhelmed and unable to correct a problem….so it gets worse. I think even stuff hoarders have 2 categories….WON’T let stuff go, and just can’t deal with the giant mess of stuff so they ignore it. The SECOND category can usually be fixed (in my unprofessional, totally-not-a-psychologist opinion). You just need a good motivation and maybe some helpers. Once the overwhelming problem is fixed, the maintenance is easy. The cat people will blame the garbage-y mess on being too busy to clean (because they are running around feeding cats), but you will see that it escalates to not cleaning litter boxes or doing laundry……and then we have arrived at :
4) Full Fledged Denial. We walked into one hoarder’s house and she excused the mess by saying she was still unpacking. I guess that the unpacking accounted for the loads of useless items that were accumulated on her staircase – as well as the 3 months worth of cat hair and tracked litter. I guess her vacuum was still packed away.
I went to a class once where we were taught about the different “types” of hoarders. Like the guy who has two un-neutered animals that just start having babies, and eventually he cannot keep up. Or the rescuer who has really good intentions and tries to get them all fed and to the vet, but has just taken on too much to manage. Overwhelmed people usually have an understanding of what their situation is, and are willing to correct it if they can just get the help, or get out of their depressed slump. But true hoarders have a warped sense of reality. I am pretty sure that they don’t accurately see what they are doing – they don’t SEE that the cat has scald-marks from sitting in it’s own urine constantly. They don’t SEE that this cat is emaciated and lethargic. There are a lot of disconnects for them. They know enough to not want anyone in their house, but they deny how bad it truly is, especially to themselves. They are usually very intelligent and manipulative. Hoarders are scary fucking people.
If you feel proud of what you do for animals and grateful for what animals have brought to your life, try to remember to celebrate that. You may not always be understood – but you will never be alone. We are a whole secret society that even WE don’t know exists!