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Animal Planet Sheds Light on Animal Hoarding in New Series

While recent breakthrough shows such as Hoarders on A&E and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC have made the obsessive-compulsive behavior of hoarding gain national attention, Animal Planet focuses the lens on the problem even further in a new television series.

The show, called Confessions: Animal Hoarding, puts a spotlight on compulsive hoarders who specifically collect innumerous amounts of animals as pets and are oblivious of the health risks to themselves and the animals. Because the number of pets continues to grow as animal hoarders are seeking constant affection from their pet-owner bond, they become incapacitated by the care required for all the animals, to the point where it interferes with their normal way of life as well as their ability to adequately provide this care. Animal hoarders are in denial of this dangerous lifestyle, instead believing the delusion that they are saving the animals from homelessness or harm. Confessions kicks off its first season with six episodes that document the heart-wrenching stories of 12 different animal hoarders.

Animal hoarders may have experienced some sort of past trauma that has disassociated them from normal human relationships, causing them to choose animal relationships in preference over real social bonds. Chronic hoarding, or compulsive hoarding syndrome, affects over 2% of the population and is considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit disorder, or dementia. Hoarders will rationalize their need to collect unnecessary items, like multiple animals, even though these justifications are out of touch with reality. Over time, animal hoarders begin living amongst the filth, fecal matter, dander, parasites, and diseases that these animals build up within the house. Clothing, furniture, carpets, floors, and other parts the house become destroyed by the pets, and the animals tend to take over certain rooms—deteriorating the owner’s control over the house and self-control. Animals can be affected by injury, isolation, malnourishment, infection, suffocation, and death; Confessions even comes in contact with animal hoarders whose homes contain carcasses of their dead pets.

Unlike typical cases of hoarding in which hoarders collect excessive amounts of garbage, clothing, mail, or other unnecessary items that they believe to be worth keeping, animal hoarders collect animals to entitle themselves with the caregiver role as well as receiving love from the animals. Animals can replace the need for identity, affection, and self-esteem, and can help people cope with loss. The animal hoarder’s living situation is not only a health, social, and fire hazard, but it is also a form of animal cruelty. Often, animal control authorities or shelters are required to seize the animals from hoarders’ homes. Unfortunately, due to their mental illness, these hoarders usually adopt more pets after these incidents occur, continuing the cycle of neglect and danger. Of the 3,500 cases of animal cruelty that occur each year, over 250,000 animals are discovered.

Confessions includes the help of consultant veterinary epidemiologist Gary Patronek, who helps the hoarders manage their animals and treat them for health conditions. Interventions are performed with the animal hoarders, in which compromises and the removal of excessive animals are attempted. Most of the time, their living situations are so out of control that their family members have turned their backs on them and left them to live alone. Eventually, these hoarders become too paranoid to leave their own homes or let the animals outside. Their compelling stories are portrayed in Confessions in an attempt to bring awareness of this serious but small population of affected people and to hopefully save animals’ lives while reforming their owners’ lives.

Confessions: Animal Hoarding is broadcast on Animal Planet at 9:00pm (ET/PT).

Source: USA Today, Gary Strauss, Hoarding Goes Four-Legged in Animal Planet’s "Confessions," July 21, 2010

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